Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act

An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Vic Toews  Conservative

Status

Report stage (House), as of Feb. 7, 2011
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the International Transfer of Offenders Act to provide that one of the purposes of that Act is to enhance public safety and to modify the list of factors that the Minister shall consider in deciding whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Sept. 27, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

September 23rd, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was hoping to ask a question of the previous speaker, who is unavailable, but he gave an excellent speech in which he had particularly targeted an amendment in the bill, subclause 3(1), which replaces existing subsection 10(1), all the way down to paragraph 10(1)(l). This has to do with the circumstances that a minister can take into account.

Paragraph 10(1)(l) would say,

any other factor that the Minister considers relevant.

When one makes a list of factors that may be taken into account, something must be left off. Otherwise it would say, “any factor that the Minister believes is relevant”. The fact that there is a list, which was added, seems to suggest that this list is not comprehensive, and I am not sure why. What it does, and the member mentioned it in his speech, is raise the question of arbitrariness in the law.

I understand that it is in fact part of our Constitution that laws cannot have elements of arbitrariness. It therefore raises the question about whether the Attorney General of Canada has properly opined on the constitutionality of the bill. I do not know, but it is probably worth asking because this is a very serious bill. It is an important bill. It is a bill that addresses the transfer of prisoners from one jurisdiction back to Canada. The whole premise underlying the bill is for the purposes and enhancement of rehabilitation of citizens of Canada who may have run afoul of the laws in another jurisdiction.

The other thing that came to my mind when the member was speaking is the fact that today Bill C-5 was called for the first time for debate at second reading. Also today there is an article in a number of newspapers. The one I picked up is in the Ottawa Citizen and it is titled, “Canadian jailed in U.S. can return, court rules”. This is in fact precisely the type of case that is impacted by Bill C-5.

This relates to a person named Brent James Curtis. He was involved in a routine transfer from a U.S. prison to a Canadian jail, and the Federal Court of Appeal said that the minister erred and that the Conservative administration was to reconsider the decision within 45 days. This was a decision made by the court yesterday on this matter, yet the government proceeded with this bill today. The timing is very unusual and it would suggest that, since the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the government erred on that case, for this bill to come forward is quite astounding.

The question of whether there is a problem on the constitutional side is also important. As well, there is a question about whether there is continued support for the long-standing tradition that countries have had of being able to transfer prisoners. In this particular case, Mr. Curtis wanted to serve out the balance of his sentence in Canada to be close to his family. This is part and parcel of the whole regime of transfer and rehabilitation.

There was another thing that I saw in the article in the Ottawa Citizen today. According to the article, the officials of the then Minister of Public Safety told the minister that the facts were clear. The assumption had been initially made that this person was somehow implicated in other ways. They advised the minister directly that his facts were wrong. The minister ignored his own officials, made his own decision, and quashed the transfer of this person.

It raises again the question of what is the agenda of the Minister of Public Safety. Why is it that officials of his department are ignored? With the decision of a court, the Federal Court of Appeal, that the minister has 45 days to reconsider the position, why is it that there is now a bill before us that will say that, notwithstanding anything else, other things that will be taken into consideration now will be anything the minister thinks is appropriate? Talk about a one-man show.

I am very sure that there are going to be others who want to pursue what happened in this particular case. This decision was actually highlighted in the media a year ago. The Canadian public safety minister at the time wrongly considered this Canadian citizen, who is now 29 years old, a major money man in a drug conspiracy. That was simply not the fact. That was found by the Federal Court of Appeal ruling. When the minister refused the prison transfer for this person, the minister contradicted his own staff findings in terms of whether Mr. Curtis was linked somehow to organized crime. But still the minister denied the prison transfer on the basis that he might commit future offences in organized crime or terrorism, when it was already made clear by his own staff and officials that there was no connection to organized crime or terrorism.

It was denied even though the U.S. government approved the transfer. The U.S. government approved the transfer, but the Canadian minister did not approve it. So one has to wonder what is going on here. There are so many questions that should be asked of the minister and I am sure it will come out when this goes to committee, but I suspect that with regard to the bill and with regard to the arbitrariness, this particular provision is not going to get very much support at committee.

The officials concluded that Mr. Brent Curtis would not commit a crime if he were transferred back to Canada, nor did Curtis have any links to terrorism or organized crime and was only a minor participant in the matter that was before the court. He was found guilty and sentenced to jail. The government position left Mr. Curtis in U.S. custody where he could not even understand the hourly instructions over the prison public announcement system, which was in Spanish for most of its Mexican inmates. When I saw this case and was referred to the story, it certainly did raise the spectre of some problems.

So we are at second reading. Should this matter be passed at second reading and go forward to the committee, I want to flag for the committee that this particular case of Mr. Brent Curtis should be looked at and that this bill should be considered in the context of what happened with regard to that case, because I think it has a direct bearing and a direct consideration with regard to paragraph 10(1)(l) that says what is relevant is any other factor that the minister considers relevant. It is very unusual. The arbitrariness of that on its face, on a prima facie basis, would raise the question of whether the Attorney General in fact had opined correctly on whether this bill itself with that proviso in there, with that amendment in there, is constitutional. So there are constitutional questions here as well that would have to be looked at.

This is not my area of expertise, but I hope that other hon. members will take an opportunity to look at the records, to look at the court decision, to look at the actions or inactions of the minister, to consider the actions or inactions of the Attorney General vis-à-vis constitutionality and try to understand and try to determine from the minister and officials why his officials were overridden, not listened to, and why the minister proceeded with the bill only one day after the Federal Court of Appeal told them that the minister was wrong.

This just raises more questions than answers, and at this point, I hope that hon. members will take into consideration some of the disturbing facts surrounding Bill C-5.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member on his presentation. He has accurately described what the bill is all about. We know this is another PR exercise on the part of the government as far as its criminal justice agenda is concerned.

Just the other day we heard from Mr. Sullivan, the government's victims rights appointee, who after three years is not being reappointed. His criticism of the government is that it is spending too much effort on punishment and it is not worried about the issues involving victims rights. The very issues the government claims to support, he says the government is not giving the type of support to victims that it should be.

We know the system has been working just fine for 30 years. The idea that somehow we should be giving more discretionary power to the minister for a system that is working okay right now does not make any sense whatsoever. Criminals are going to eventually get out of jail in any event from, say, the United States and come back here without any type of training. How is that going to provide any type of safety for the people of this country?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my NDP colleague is right. The Conservatives have a great deal of difficulty striking a balance between rehabilitation, conviction and repression. This is a delicate balance. Quebec society has always been open to balancing repression and rehabilitation.

The conservative right-wing philosophy has been predominant in the United States. A few months ago, the new Democratic U.S. president had to release 20,000 prisoners because he thought the sentences were too stiff for the crimes and because there was no more money to keep these people in jail, let alone rehabilitate them. Rehabilitation is very important. The younger the criminals, the greater the effort we must make to rehabilitate them. Quebec's success rate in this regard is exceptional.

Once again, the Conservatives, out of partisanship, have decided to judge on a case-by-case basis, day by day, and with an eye to the media, just like the Republicans in the United States.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we can follow up on the member's comments by recognizing that what the Conservatives want to do with their bill is enhance public safety, but in fact it will do just the opposite.

They are going to let the criminals stay in jail in, for example, the United States, where they will get no rehabilitation. At the end of their sentence they are going to be sent back to Canada where they will in fact be a danger to public safety in this country.

The current system works just fine because people will be brought back. They will be going to a jail in Canada; they will not be going free. They are going to be in a jail where they will not be a threat to anyone. They will get proper rehabilitation and training here so that when they do get out, they are not going to be the menace to society they would be if they were left in the United States.

Would the member like to comment further on that?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 11:40 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the balance in the justice system has been passed down to us by our parents. We have adopted a set of societal values. The party opposite wants to give a right-wing Conservative minister more discretion. The minster gave us his reasons, saying he had examples in mind but could not cite them.

So we are going to give a right-wing Conservative minister discretion. We have seen the Conservatives’ secrecy with respect to the transfer of Afghan prisoners. They do not want to hand over the documents. There is a presumption that torture has been outsourced to the Afghan authorities.

The same is true with the justice system. The minister wants more discretion because he wants to leave prisoners in other countries, maybe to subject them to treatment he could not subject them to in Canada. That is the sticking point.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 11:40 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right. Why?

The Conservatives have decided to take on the whole law and order issue because they can make political hay out of it. That is all they have left. The rest of it, the way the Conservatives govern the country, is a monumental failure. They think they are going to succeed with law and order.

At the same time, and this message is for my Liberal colleague, because we have to stop, I listen to the Liberals’ speeches and it is clear they want to vote for the bill so it can be amended in committee.

Why not stand up and vote against this bad bill? If we fight it now, it is over. Let us stop being afraid that people will think that voting against something means we are not in favour of law and order.

Let me give an example. The Bloc Québécois was the first party in the House to take on and fight against organized criminals by reversing the burden of proof. We fought that battle for Quebec, against the Hells Angels. We did a good job. When it is a bad Conservative bill, we do not hesitate to take it on. The political results in Quebec will perhaps give the Liberals a bit more of a taste for standing up to the Conservatives, even on their bad law and order bills.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join colleagues in debating Bill C-5, which is an amendment to the statute that governs the transfers of Canadian offenders outside Canada back into Canada and offenders in Canada who are not Canadian would be patriated to their own countries.

I debate this because I see some material difficulties with the in bill the way it is written. I do not want to prejudge the vote of the House, but should it go to committee for study, it is my hope that the remarks in the House will better inform the committee review of the bill.

There are three areas I want to address. The first is about the title of the bill. The second is about the degree to which the House may expand the ambit of discretion in the hands of, not the Governor-in-Council or not a tribunal, but one minister. The third is about charter compliance in relation to what is in the bill.

The first thing is the title. It is an act the amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, but the government, for whatever purpose, has seen fit, in clause 1, to write the following, “This Act may be cited as the Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act”. I do not quite understand why the government would name it that. It could have named the bill, “making Canadians happy act”, or “making Canadians more contented”, or “making Canadians feel a little bit better”, or maybe “making Canadians like the Conservative Party of Canada a little better”.

If the title of the bill is to become an open-ended billboard for political rhetoric and advertising, then I think the House should put a stop to it. I have never seen this nonsense before.

If anybody is to put an end to it, it has to be the members in the House. I am pretty sure the Department of Justice did not decide to put a neon sign, billboard piece of advertising rhetoric in the title to a bill. It is actually bordering on the absurd. I have thought about it. This is a bit like the Orwellian Animal Farm thing that we could read about in fiction some years ago. If the government keeps repeating these little mantras, maybe people will start to believe it.

The first thing I think the House should do is strike the title of the bill, but our procedures do not allow us to do that at second reading. However, I would love to see a motion to do that, to at least strike out the political rhetoric and advertising in the title. I hope the committee, if it goes to committee, will strike this part of the title and state very firmly in a separate report that this type of playing, abusing, distorting, adulterating the clause 1 of a bill by throwing in a little political throwaway line is unacceptable to the House and it distorts our legislative practices here.

This is not the first bill where I have seen this, but it is the first bill where I have had a chance to get up and, in a material way, address it. It is unacceptable. Hopefully, if the bill comes back, we will not see this nonsense. The House should not be drawn into these silly, Orwellian, Animal Farm, political mantra insertions in our statutes.

Of course once we write it, it could be there forever. There it is, in all of our bills, “the making Canadians happy bill”, “the making Canadians content bill”, “the oh what a wonderful world it is bill”, “the do not forget to vote for us in the next-election bill”. This is silly, dumb, distorted, political thinking. It certainly is not part of the legislative arts. I really hope the committee that studies the bill will look at that.

Let us move on to something a little more substantial, and it is the issue of discretion.

A number of members have spoken about it and it is clear, on the face of it, that one of the purposes of the bill is to broaden the discretion of the minister in making decisions on offender transfers. Most of the changes take place with reference to Canadian offenders abroad who have applied to be repatriated to Canada. However, clause 3 of the bill applies to offenders in Canada being removed, on their own application, from Canada. There is an expansion even there because currently the wording is that the minister “must” take certain things into consideration. The wording being proposed here is the minister “may” take into consideration a certain number of considerations. That is just on the circumstance of offenders who are not Canadian, who are in Canada and as part of an application process involving their country have applied to be removed from Canada to serve the balance of their sentence in their country of origin or citizenship.

Let us go back to the issue of discretion in relation to Canadians abroad. As I look at the bill, it is pretty clear that the discretion made available by the House, because we are legislating this, to the minister, from a “must”, as in, “the minister must take a look at this consideration”, is moved to the word “may”, as in, “the minister may”. That means the minister does not have to take into consideration the items that are preceded by the word “may”.

In addition, we have the insertion of the words “in the minister's opinion”, which basically says that what really matters is the minister's opinion, one person's opinion on that consideration.

At the beginning, the bill refers to the goal of enhancing public safety. Nobody could object to that, but it is also a fact that the Sentencing Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code all refer to and incorporate public safety as either the number one or a leading public policy objective in all of this. How could it be otherwise?

Having mentioned the word “may” and the insertion of “the minister's opinion”, we also have at the end, subsection (l), unbelievably having listed 11 separate factors and a number of sub-factors. These are considerations that the minister may take into consideration and, in relation to which, it is the minister's opinion that governs. Having listed all of those carefully, itemized with precision, the government now inserts a clause that says, “Any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”. Why do we not just drop all of the considerations and insert subsection (l) so the minister can simply, on his or her own opinion, “Any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”.

What a total, unmitigated abandonment of rule of law is this? If we pass this, why bother giving the minister a list of considerations and matters to take into consideration if at the end of it all we can simply say “any other factor that the minister considers relevant?” It is not whether it is relevant or not, it is whether the minister considers it to be relevant. Therefore, should there ever be case of someone, God forbid, second-guessing the decision of the minister, and we would never want to do that around here but maybe in other places people might, the minister can simply respond by saying that it is none of our business because the statute says that he or she can take into consideration any other factor that he or she considers relevant, for example, if a person has bad eyesight, or good eyesight, or is too tall the prison beds.

We will not bring back a seven-footer because we will have to build a special bed for him. Is that a relevant consideration? It is only in the mind of the minister that it matters. If the minister thinks that is a factor the minister considers relevant, then it counts. That is what we have been asked to pass and legislate. This is wrong. This is a default. This is an abandonment by the House of the issues that we consider relevant because we have already created the main list.

There are other considerations. Paragraph (g) states, “The offender's health”. What does that mean? The minister may take into consideration the offender's health. Does that mean good health or poor health or some aspect of health? Will the minister look at the person's DNA? A lot of DNA is being recorded and profiled now. It is recorded for all serious offenders in our country and in many other jurisdictions around the world. The DNA of the offender is taken and DNA profiles are fully capable, under proper analysis, of revealing health traits and propensities to certain bad health. Do we want the minister to have the total discretion to take into account that offender's health? In this case, we are talking about a Canadian offender who is outside Canada who has applied to come back and serve the balance of a sentence here in Canada.

There should be some parameters put on this. However, if the House were to go ahead and adopt the whole list, including item (l), any other factor the minister considers relevant, it really does not matter then. The minister can take into consideration the health, whether the offender has or does not have hair, height, weight, where he or she was born, and any other factor the minister thinks is relevant.

I hope in the end that these items will be dropped from the bill. I am pleading with colleagues in the House and the committee to seriously consider dropping some of these provisions or circumscribing them. However, at the very least, if Parliament does turn over to the minister additional discretion, whether it includes these things or not, I hope there can be a provision inserted in the bill that requires the minister to put these considerations in writing and to make them available to the offender whose application is being dealt with. It seems to be fair that these considerations, if relied on by the minister, are put in writing. Let us keep this in mind. There is no built-in review. It looks like the minister's say on this is final.

I mentioned the offender's health. Subparagraph (i) deals with whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she was incarcerated. In the normal course, that sounds reasonable, but what about the case of offenders who say that they were never guilty and that it was a false conviction? Do we think there were ever any false convictions out there? In fact, we know there have been too many, which we all feel badly about. The ones we hear about are the convictions dealing with homicides. In those cases, the offenders are normally incarcerated for much longer sentences, for 10 to 20 years or life sentences. In those cases, when the offender, who has been improperly convicted, finally gets a chance to prove it and get exonerated, those are high profile cases because the offender has usually served quite a few years.

I do not have to list of those cases. However, those who have been exonerated should be able to go on with their lives without being mentioned in the parliamentary record.

What about all the other cases of people who have been falsely convicted of lesser offences where the sentences have been two, three, four or five years and they have been incarcerated in a foreign jurisdiction, even though they were plainly the wrong people? This section seems to be saying that in order for the minister to bring the person back, the person needs to have accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she were convicted, including acknowledging the harm done to the victims and the community. How does that section deal with the matter of a false conviction? It does not and it should.

I will stop my review of the individual sections, but there is one more item I want to mention. Subparagraph (d) states:

whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence;

That is not a new provision, but the part that makes it “in the Minister's opinion” involves the extension of discretion, which I am concerned about. The reason that it is important in this case is that if there is a Canadian abroad, he or she has, under our charter, the right to return to Canada.

I am concerned here, legally, about this House legislating a ministerial opinion that would or could obstruct a charter right of a Canadian offender abroad to come back to Canada. This has charter implications and constitutional legality implications. I do not know whether that was noted.

I will now deal with the charter issue. In my view, these provisions are much too vague. They impose a degree of arbitrariness. Under our Constitution, we are not supposed to be subject to arbitrary measures. We have legal rights to life, liberty and the security of the person. We have the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, which is applicable here depending on what is meant by imprisoned or detained. If we have the right under our charter not to be arbitrarily imprisoned or detained, which is specifically mentioned in the charter, then we do not have the right to write a statute that takes away the right not to be arbitrarily detained.

The allowance of the minister of these arbitrary discretionary rules removes that charter right. I would love to see the Department of Justice opinion that says that this provision and all these provisions are charter compliant.

The real issue here is whether Parliament will abandon the set of rules that we have had established for many years for offenders in favour of virtually a totally arbitrary decision in the hands of one minister of the government of the day, and not just of an apparent and alleged charter problem but real, material and incipient charter issues on the face of it.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, several speakers in this debate have already questioned why the government is bringing out another one of these bills. I think we all know why. The fact is that it is bringing them out because it gets headlines like this, “Tories want to toughen rules on repatriation”. It is all about those media hits and trying to improve its depressed polling numbers.

However, if the media in this country would actually do its part and be more critical of the government by writing headlines like, “Conservatives wrong on crime” and “Conservatives do what does not work again”, the government would come to its senses and stop doing it. However, it keeps doing this because there is mileage in it.

How the Conservatives can keep doing these things with a straight face is beyond me. We have intelligent lawyers on that side of the House, too, and I do not know how they sleep at night going through this charade year after year, not to mention the fact that the Prime Minister keeps proroguing the House and calling elections a year earlier than he needs to, violating his own fixed election dates, and then we start the process over.

On the nuclear liability bill, it is the fifth time this bill has been introduced in this House and, for the fifth time, we will go through the whole process of debates again just so he can prorogue the House again in a few months.

The bill that we are dealing with here was introduced last year. We went through all the debates on this issue just last year and now it is being introduced again.

Would the member like to comment further on this? I know he had a few more points in his speech that he was unable to fit into the time frame, so maybe he would like to take a couple of minutes and finish his speech in the process.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I did manage to get most of my remarks in but I might have been a little unclear on one thing, which is that for ever statute that comes forward, the Department of Justice, under the Department of Justice Act, is required to provide an opinion to the Privy Council that the proposed legislation is charter compliant. I am curious as heck to see how the Department of Justice handled this particular statute.

I have a sense from time to time that the Department of Justice may have lost its way over the last few years. It, of course, leads in developing legislation. I noted a case before the Supreme Court last week. The law on taxation of the federal government by municipalities has been clear for almost 150 years but somehow the Department of Justice lost that case. I have not read it yet but I am sure there is a good explanation in the case.

However, we need to focus a bit more on rule of law here. Law is the infrastructure and politics is the octane that runs this place but we need to keep our eyes on the components.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments of my esteemed and learned colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River. We share a number of interests. His understanding of regulations and how bills are written is extremely important.

People watching this debate must be wondering when they see the caption “Keeping Canadians Safe”. When they actually examine how shallow this legislation is and see that it would give discretion to the minister to pick and choose which Canadians will be defended abroad, it becomes quite a farce. Those people who are watching this on TV are seeing nothing but a farce as a result of a government that is telling Canadians that sometimes it will defend them and other times it will not.

I want to ask the member a very specific question. The prospect that I have seen in my years with consular affairs helping defend the interests of Canadians abroad, apart from the fact that we know there is no example of recidivism, of someone coming back to Canada and reoffending, the arguments that have been made so far about rehabilitation are extremely valid. If the government is so concerned about keeping Canadians safe, why, in goodness name, would it not allow for rehabilitation if a person does not reoffend, even though an offence took place in another country?

It is on that point that I have encountered many Canadians who have found themselves in situations where, through shoddy policing, a lack of presumption of innocence or a perception of perhaps targeting foreign nationals, Canadians find themselves with no help, except for this kind of treaty, which has been agreed to by most nations.

I am wondering if the hon. member could comment on the fact that this is really a proxy for the government to do indirectly that which it cannot do directly and, in fact, that the government is looking at a position where it does not need to help Canadians? It may be a question of extraordinary rendition in reverse.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, some Canadians do not like the thought of Canadians returning to Canada when they have committed offences abroad, but the fact is that they will be coming back and, in theory, the day after they finish serving their sentence in whatever country.

For those who are not violent offenders but have broken the law, bringing them back a little early to serve their sentences here allows for transitioning. Our corrections system has some of the best transitioning and conditional release provisions in the world, and we do quite well at it statistically. It is not perfect but we do quite well at it.

Those really violent offenders will come back anyway. They are not prohibited from coming back to Canada. As soon as their sentences are up, in theory, they are back here on the next plane. I would rather have them come back to Canada before the expiry of their sentences so that we can get a handle on them, find out a bit more about them and get them into some programming if possible, some transitional, conditional or supervised release. That supervision would then assist in transitioning them out of their sentence and back on the street where, after the expiry of their sentence, they are entitled to be. That makes the whole system safer.

Whether they are non-violent offenders or violent offenders, there are good reasons for doing this and it has worked pretty well for the last 30 years.

My friend may be correct that the goal here is to reduce the need for the government to bring some of these people back for whatever reason. If they are public safety reasons, I wish the government could be real honest about that.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I also have serious concerns about this bill and about the government’s desire to give itself more and more leeway when it comes to the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens outside Canada. In some cases, they have in fact committed repugnant or unacceptable crimes, but in other cases, they may have been wrongfully convicted, because that does happen in some countries. In fact, it even happens in our country, and we know of examples. So this government wants to give itself more leeway, as we saw in the Khadr case. A child soldier who is unjustly imprisoned by the Americans in spite of every international convention, and the government refuses even to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court.

Is my colleague not afraid that if we give the minister even more power, there will be ever more situations like that one, where the rights of Canadian citizens are trampled on abroad?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the main theme in this debate is the increased bundle of discretion that is being offered statutorily to the minister involved. It is a distortion of the regime that has existed up to now, which has worked rather well. There is some concern in the House that the additional discretion is not needed. That is not to say that no amendments to this statute are needed, and we are going to make some amendments if this bill goes forward.

I think the view in the House would be that the discretion involved ought to be constrained better than it is now in these amendments. In many ways the discretion offered goes way too far.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-5. I am following some very excellent speeches on the part of other members in the House from the Liberal Party, the Bloc and certainly my party, the NDP.

Bill C-5, keeping Canadians safe, is to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. This particular bill was introduced in the House on March 18, 2010, by the Minister of Public Safety. It is almost identical to Bill C-59, which received first reading during the second session of the 40th Parliament but died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued on December 30, 2009.

We get to the point again of the Prime Minister's proroguing Parliament and having to reset the entire agenda, reintroduce all the bills and go through all the debates. Each time he prorogues the House, he sets back the Parliament in this country by a year or two in the process.

Bill C-5 amends the purpose of the International Transfer of Offenders Act as well as the factors for the minister's consideration in deciding whether to consent to an offender's transfer. This bill is all about transferring discretion. Under the old bill, there was a set procedure for bringing people back. It has worked well for 29 or 30 years in this country. As a matter of fact, not one person who has been repatriated has reoffended under the program. The government, for whatever reason, has decided it wants to transfer more power to the minister so the minister can decide who gets to come back.

Canada has been a party to treaties related to the transfer of offenders, as I said, since 1978. These agreements have been characterized as humanitarian in nature. They enable offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship to alleviate undue hardship borne by offenders and their families and to facilitate their eventual reintegration into society, because at the end of their sentences, they will come out.

The argument that we and other parties have been presenting in the House over and over again is that, in the Canadian system, they will be subject to rehabilitation and programs. These programs are often not available in other jurisdictions. Most of the people being brought back under the program are in United States jails, and the United States does not have a very robust system for dealing with the rehabilitation programs and treating the prisoners.

The Transfer of Offenders Act came into force in 1978. It was modernized by the International Transfer of Offenders Act in 2004. The act enables offenders to serve their sentences in the country in which they are citizens or nationals. Generally speaking, the principle of dual criminality applies here, so that the transfer is not available unless the Canadian offender's conduct would have constituted a criminal offence in Canada as well.

A transfer can take place only with the consent of the offender, the foreign entity and Canada. It is the minister, currently defined as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who decides whether to consent to the transfer into Canada of a Canadian offender or the transfer out of Canada of a foreign offender, because it is a two-way street here. In making that decision, the minister is currently required to consider certain factors, such as whether a Canadian offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada and whether that offender has social or family ties in Canada.

Once an offender is transferred, his or her sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of the receiving country. The Correctional Service of Canada notes in its international transfers annual report for 2006-07 that if offenders are not transferred, they may ultimately be deported to Canada at the end of their sentence without correctional supervision, which is very important, and without the benefits of programming.

I have a copy of that report. I want to take a moment to read the conclusion because there are many good elements to that report. It states:

An analysis of the information contained in this report doesn't only demonstrate that the purpose and principles of the International Transfer of Offenders Act have been fulfilled; it supports that the International Transfer of Offenders program is consistent with the Mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and it's Mission Statement in that the program contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. It ensures that offenders are gradually returned to society and that they have the opportunity to participate in programming that targets the factors that may have led to their offence.

The reference to public safety is there. The government seems to suggest that it has to make these amendments because somehow it would enhance public safety, ignoring the fact that the transferees who come from the foreign jails are not coming out on the street. They are going directly to jail. They are not going to be a danger to public safety in Canada, because they are not going to be walking the streets. They are going to be in jail presumably being subject to programming efforts and proper supervision. When they are let out, they will be supervised through that process as well.

On the other hand, if they come out of the American jail after a period of time with no proper programming, then they are essentially time bombs. They are going to be coming back to Canada and they are not going to be supervised. Then they could be a threat to public safety.

That is exactly what we are trying to prevent. The government is basically on the wrong track. As we see with many of the measures it takes, it is all about the headline. That is all it really cares about, as well as what is happening with the poll numbers. It is not concerned about what works and what does not work.

As I have indicated before, the media in this country should take their jobs seriously on this issue and become more critical of the government and start writing headlines a little different from the ones the Conservatives are getting, headlines that say, “Conservatives wrong on crime”, “Conservatives do what doesn't work again”. If the government started getting headlines like that, then perhaps it would retreat a bit and not be so eager to keep putting Parliament and the public through this whole exercise of what it has been doing.

As I have indicated on several occasions, there are smart lawyers on both sides of the House. There are particularly good lawyers on the Conservative side of the House as well. I do not know how they justify doing things like this.

Just so people who are watching know the total number of transfers, a total of 1,351 Canadian offenders were transferred to Canada between 1978 and 2007. Therefore we are not talking about huge numbers. Of these, 1,069 or 79% of them came from the United States.

The other countries from which most Canadians were repatriated were Mexico at 59 offenders or 4.4% of the transfers; the United Kingdom, at 33 offenders or 2.4% of the transfers; Peru at 31 offenders or 2.3% of the transfers; Trinidad and Tobago at 20 offenders or 1.5% of the transfers; Thailand at 17 offenders or 1.3% of the transfers; Venezuela at 17 offenders or 1.3% of the transfers; Cuba at 16 offenders or 1.2% of the transfers; and Costa Rica at 14 offenders or 1.0% of the transfers.

Fewer than 10 offenders were repatriated from any other country. I think a lot of people would perhaps not be surprised with those figures, but in a way might be because I would think that a number of people would be thinking that people were being transferred from places like Turkey, and of course that does not seem to be the case.

The number of offenders transferred to Canada in the fiscal year has ranged from a low of seven in 1980-81 to a high of 98 in 2003-04. In 2006-07, 53 offenders were transferred to Canada, which was the lowest annual total since 1994-95, when 40 offenders were transferred. In the last 10 years for which statistics are available, 1997-98 to 2006-07, 768 offenders were transferred to Canada for a yearly average of 77.

So, we are not talking about a tremendous number here. These are reasonably small numbers, over a 30-year period. Of those 768 offenders, 313, 40% of them, were transferred to the Ontario region; 207, or 27%, transferred to the Pacific region; 200, or 26%, transferred to the Quebec region; 33 people, or 4.3%, transferred to the Prairies; and 15 people, or 2%, were transferred to the Atlantic region.

In terms of transfers from Canada, a total of 124 offenders were transferred out of Canada between 1978-2007. Of these, 106 offenders, 85% of them, were transferred to the United States. No matter which way we look at it, the transfers back and forth are overwhelmingly between Canada and the United States. Very small numbers exist on either side for countries other than the United States. Eight offenders, or 6.5%, were transferred to the Netherlands; three people were transferred to the United Kingdom; two were transferred to France; and one was transferred to each of the following countries: Estonia, Ireland, Israel, Italy and Poland. And 90 of the 124 transfers took place between 1978 and 1983.

Since then, transfers from Canada have generally taken place at a rate of one or two offenders per year; although there were three transfers in 1990-91, all to the United States, and four in 2006-07, one each to Estonia, France, Israel and Italy.

Now, in terms of the applications and denials, which is the reason behind the government bringing in this legislation in the first place because it had one or two cases where it was not happy with the results, in the last five fiscal years for which statistics are available, the international transfers unit of Corrections Canada received 1,314 applications for transfer. Of those, only 27%, 367, have resulted in a transfer, while 519, or 39%, were denied, and some applications are still being processed.

In one of the press releases that the government sent out, it brags about the fact that its number of approvals has been slashed. It is taking the small numbers of people who are involved in the transfer program, in the first place, and essentially cutting them down drastically. I have the statistics here. That is what the end result of this exercise will be.

When the minister wants and gets more discretion, the end result of that process will be that less people will be involved in the transfer and more people will be staying in the prisons in countries outside Canada, fulfilling their full sentence. Then they will be coming back to Canada without any kind of treatment or any kind of programs that would make them better candidates for integration and, I guess, less of a risk to public safety. When they come back from the United States with no training and no programs, they are not going to be supervised here, and then they are going to be a threat. They are going to be a public safety risk.

We are going to have the opposite effect of what the government actually wants. This is absolutely crazy. We want to have a system that shows results. We want to adopt practises that actually work.

I do not know how many times we have spoken in this House about how the American system, during Ronald Reagan's years, during the “three strikes and you're out” and the minimum sentences, produced a huge construction boom in the United States for prisons, many of which became private prisons so private entrepreneurs could make money. These prisons basically warehouse a huge number of prisoners. Guess what? The crime rate did not go down but instead went up. The U.S. economy is in such bad shape right now that the California governor is just letting people out of prison without having taken any programs, which will basically allow the prisoners to reoffend again.

The Conservative government obviously does not have any common sense. Why would it adopt a system that is 25 years old and has a bad track record? I do not know why the government would not canvass the world, find programs that actually work regardless of the country, send teams of people to study the program, and implement that program here. That is the sensible way to do it, but the Conservative government does not do things like that. The government picks programs that do not work.

In Manitoba we enforced the immobilizer program on insurance companies and provided it free to drivers. This program has cut the auto theft rate by 40% in about a year. We beefed up the crime prevention unit to concentrate on the 50 people who were stealing most of the cars. This program actually works and other jurisdictions are looking at copying what is being done there.

That is the kind of approach that the government should be taking toward criminal justice in this country, or any other program in this country. The Conservatives are ideologically bound to their American Republican cousins. They have taken the attitude that if it did not work in the United States then let us not make it work here. That seems to be their approach.

I do not know how we can get through to Conservative members. We are sitting in a minority government. With friends like Rahim Jaffer and others, the Conservatives will have a minority government forever. A majority government will probably never happen.

In their own minds, the Conservatives seem to think that they have a majority government. They keep pretending they have a majority government. They bring in bills that have no chance of making it through the House. We have to question why they would keep doing this. Then they prorogue the House and start over again. The public must be shaking their heads. I have asked people about this and some have come to the conclusion that the Conservatives are not actually tough on crime but are actually soft on crime.

There is a real lack of credibility and a real disconnect with the Conservative government and some of the legislative efforts that it makes. The programs in the system do not actually work.

I have become sidetracked once again. I have pages and pages of notes. I could probably speak for another hour on this subject, but I understand that my time is running out. Perhaps when members ask me questions I could make some more comments on some of the sections I missed in my speech. Having said that, I want to yield the floor to people who want to ask questions.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am hoping to allow the hon. member to extend his comments with my question. Is the hon. member aware of the fact that prior to the introduction of this legislation, by its predecessor last March, the government was involved in the practice of ensuring certain Canadians could not return? In other words, by enacting the transfer of the offender treaty, by subjecting these reviews even though they were signed off by other nations, accepted by other nations, where Canadians served a substantial time of incarceration in another country for a crime they did not commit in Canada I should point out, the then minister of public safety, now Treasury Board, was involved with subjecting some of these transfer of offender requests to CSIS reviews or any type of review which would have the effect of extending the incarceration of Canadians even though they had the right to come home.

I wonder if the hon. member could tell us what it really means when it says keeping Canadians safe when in fact the person is not rehabilitated, and I see here it says “keeping Canadians safe”. When they are not rehabilitated, as some members have said, assuming it was a fair trial to begin with, they may come back unprepared and ill equipped to reintegrate into society.

Does the hon. member believe that the discretion given the minister could lead to abuses of favouritism, choosing individuals because of their money situation, choosing them by how they vote, choosing because of media attention? Does the hon. member believe that kind of discretionary power runs against the rule of law and the very principle of democracy of this Parliament?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I agree with the member's comments. The government should be taken to task, essentially, for false advertising because it is promising that the bill is going to help public safety when the member and other members have just demonstrated that it is going to have the opposite effect.

They are already doing it. Conservatives are transferring fewer people since they have taken power. The numbers have gone down and they are allowing prisoners to stay, for example, in American jails where they are not being treated. They continue to become better criminals and basically they are ticking time bombs. When they get out of American prisons, they come straight back to Canada, and the system will have no opportunity to deal with them. They will get no training, no anger management and no supervision. They will be back out on the streets and that is going to be a danger to public safety, the exact thing Conservatives say they are trying to prevent.

On the issue of giving the minister more discretion, I share the member's concerns about this one hundred per cent because that is exactly what the government is doing. It is grabbing at straws. It uses every element it can to come up with a reason to circumvent this law and others.

It is not just this type of legislation. The Conservatives seem to want to push the envelope as far as they can to make the reality conform to their own ideology. As the member indicated, if the minister or his government, or their ideology dictate that they do not want to accept a certain person who would have been allowed back under the current rules that have worked well for 30 years, then they will simply use that as an additional reason not to bring the person back to Canada.

That is essentially what is going on here and there is no way that we should be allowing this particular minister or any minister in the government any more discretion or any more leeway than they have. As I said yesterday, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The act has been there for 30 years. It has worked well for 30 years. What is wrong with simply leaving what works intact?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to hear what my colleague thinks about an existing problem.

Let us suppose that someone has mental health issues, for example, is bipolar, and is incarcerated at the Archambault Institution in Montreal, Canada. This institution provides offenders with special attention and care, as well as the necessary medications. If this same prisoner was in the United States instead of the Archambault Institution, he would not receive any special attention, other than receiving some medication, without any real confirmation that they are appropriate for his mental condition.

I would like to know whether my colleague thinks that is right, or if he agrees that we should bring these prisoners back to Canada as quickly as possible.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I have to agree with the member. He is absolutely correct.

If we in the opposition started to communicate with our voters, we could negate whatever short-term advantage the government is getting out of these kinds of issues.

For example, there is an issue right now with respect to the prison farms. There are six prison farms in this country. Some have been operating for many years. I toured the one in Rockwood, Manitoba last week. The government is shutting down these six prison farms. When we explain that to the average voters in this country, even Conservative voters, they shake their heads in disbelief.

It is incumbent on us in the opposition to get that message out to the voters. I think they will start questioning the government on where it is going and where the common sense is in the government. It makes no sense to shut down prison farms. I think the member would probably agree with me on that.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona has pointed out the incoherence of the Conservatives bringing this bill forward when there has only been one problem. The problem was judicial oversight. The judge simply was not convinced the minister had done his due diligence. That is it.

We are wasting time in this House of Commons chewing up debate time because the Conservatives are so thin-skinned and have reacted to one case where a judge did his job and the minister did not. That is why we are here.

I want to ask the member about the incoherence of the Conservatives. We have had Conservative members call the police a cult because the police disagree with them. The Conservatives have repeatedly refused to bring in a public safety officer compensation fund so that the families of firefighters and police officers who lose their lives would be taken care of. The Conservatives give the back of their hands to the firefighters and police officers. We have seen the Conservatives kiss the goons and thugs of the Colombian regime, and try to push this through.

It is rampant hypocrisy. What the Conservatives say they want to do on crime and what they actually do are two completely different things. It is incoherence. It is hypocrisy.

Could the member comment on the absolute hypocrisy of Conservatives on criminal justice matters?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, it is even worse than that.

Three years ago the government hired Mr. Sullivan as its victims rights co-ordinator. His contract is up and the Conservatives are not renewing it, because he has actually criticized the government. This is their appointee as the head of victims rights.

The Conservatives claim they are solid on victims rights. He says they are not. He says they spend too much time worrying about and dealing with the punishment issues and do not spend enough time talking about victims rights.

This message—

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, the debate is on Bill C-5.

The question that was just asked and the answer that is coming forward are not relevant to the debate. I refer to Standing Order 11(2). I would ask that the Speaker make sure the debate is focused on the bill we are actually talking about.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, regarding the point of order, I just want to say that on all of these bills at second reading we are discussing the principle of the bill. We are dealing with the government's approach to crime. This is a very relevant conversation and a relevant argument. I see no problem with the discourse that is being allowed at the moment.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I have no hesitation in coming to the issue before us, a piece of legislation which I think is not even worthy of the debate this Parliament has undertaken.

Members will appreciate the fact that perhaps, unlike some of my colleagues in the House of Commons, I have spent a considerable amount of my career working to help Canadians in difficult situations get home. While all of those do not necessarily involve circumstances that are the most palatable, or something that on the surface may seem to be correct, appropriate and right, the reality is that my actions and those of my colleagues in the Liberal Party have always been governed by principle, by legislation that has been time honoured and treaties that have worked for Canadians as well as for our international reputation.

What the Conservative government is proposing today is really a deconstruction to facilitate more discretion for the minister to pick and choose who the minister wants to render or to bring home. The reality is that when we see this bill before us that refers to keeping Canadians safe, nothing could be further from the truth.

As many colleagues have mentioned already, when an individual is prevented by his or her government from coming returning home and getting proper rehabilitation, from a land in which the individual may have been guilty over there but not necessarily here, and in which the circumstances of the individual's incarceration does not lead necessarily to the individual's conviction here in this country, without reprogramming, without the opportunity to rehabilitate, we are opening up a Pandora's box and subjecting Canadians to certain harm.

On the question of harm, the Conservative government has not made the case for the bill. I truly believe it should not go beyond second reading for the simple reason there has not been one case with which the Conservatives can come forward on the question of recidivism. We do know that the government has spent a considerable amount of its time and the time of the courts dragging its heels preventing Canadians from coming home, forcing Canadians to hire lawyers and go to the Federal Court of Canada in order to get the government to act, to stand up for the rights of Canadians abroad.

Members will understand my surprise at this kind of arbitrary discretion given to the minister, not based on fact. It surprised me because the bill was introduced by the Minister of Public Safety. Where is the Minister of Foreign Affairs? This is a treaty of a transfer of offender. If I understand the role of the public safety minister, formerly known as the solicitor general, it is to ensure that there is an appropriate understanding between the two nations when it comes to a transfer. It surprises me that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, one of the proudest portfolios we have in our government, is mute, relatively silent, taking a back seat and, I would say, irrelevant in this process.

I want to talk a little bit about the experiences I have had with Canadians who have had difficulty returning home. I am not talking about the imbroglio years ago with which I had to become involved with respect to the return of someone like, for instance, Brenda Martin. The government, after dragging its legs, heels, whatever, decided at the last moment that it would spend $90,000 to bring her home, when all it had to do was press for the case. There is something far more important with that case as it applies to many others. I can cite for colleagues examples of where Canadians have found themselves in difficulty.

Often the transfer of offender treaty is a mechanism where we may disagree with the legal system of another country, but once the person's trial is over, the transfer mechanism can be triggered. This allows us a political but also a diplomatic way of ensuring the return of a person who has been ill-treated abroad because the person happens to be a foreign national, because the person happens to be Canadian, because the person has been subjected to shoddy police investigations there, where the person has been subjected to a rule of law in that country, good or bad, that may not, for instance, adhere to the principle, the concept, the very maxim of presumption of innocence.

This mechanism, agreed by most nations around the world, a transfer of offender treaty, has worked well for Canada since 1978. It was codified in 2004. It has helped Canadians and certainly improved Canada's standing internationally when it comes to reciprocal roles between nations. We do not always have to agree with the legal system of another country.

Let us understand why this legislation is here. Sine 2006, the Conservative government has taken upon itself to refuse to bring Canadians home. This is not done with a ministerial refusal but by finding excuses such as a CSIS review or subjecting a person to incarceration longer because the government cannot find a way of saying no, even though the approvals have happened to bring the Canadian back to Canada from the host country where the Canadian has been incarcerated. I will provide some examples.

Hundreds of Canadians can be detained or sentenced to incarceration in foreign lands. Of course, we know that some deserve to be behind bars, but there are other cases, as I have mentioned, that are not so clear-cut. A growing concern in recent years is that it seems when Canadians get in trouble abroad, there is often an automatic assumption by some officials and, yes, some politicians that the subject is guilty and should be left to his or her own fate.

This is a rather dim view that can be evidenced by the fact that the government approval rate of transfer of offender applications filed by Canadians serving sentences abroad has declined in recent years. It is down from 140 cases approved by Canada in 2005 to a low of 58 in 2006, 75 in 2007, and 108 in 2008.

I should point out that the slight increase in 2008 may be due to recent court rulings urging the government to lighten up on denying such requests. It is worth noting that in 2005 no transfer request was in fact denied. However, in 2008, 26 were refused and the refusals have drawn some attention and could support the view that the government is taking a new and rather heavy-handed approach to dealing with wayward Canadians.

In one court ruling a couple of years ago, Justice Kelen commented that the government should be taken to task on its transfer refusal. The court went as far as to state that contrary to the Minister of Public Safety's view, not everyone abroad constitutes a threat to national security. My goodness, there are 45,000 people incarcerated in this country. Are we to assume then that the minister thinks that all 45,000 are a threat to national security?

When we look at the facts underlying the reason the government has been motivated to bring this kind of legislation forward, they have nothing to do with what we are reading in it. It is not keeping Canadians safe. It is keeping Canadians in the dark. It is denying them a series of circumstances. It demonstrates to Canadians above all that the government is all about quick witty comments such as fairness at the gas pumps and keeping Canadians safe. It is a fraud. It is not true.

If the government is trying to go after a particular constituency to make a few people happy, that is great, but I can say that in my time I have dealt with people across the aisle, Conservatives, Bloc members, New Democrats, and when one of their constituents who may have supported them is in difficulty, there is never a question from a Liberal or most members of Parliament as to whether or not the person voted for a certain party before getting service. Giving discretion to the minister leaves us in a position where we are now going to subject the right of a Canadian to return, often in circumstances that are unbelievable, based on the whim of the minister.

We believe in the rule of law, not the rule of thumb.

It is extremely important for colleagues to recognize that this piece of legislation may be couched under circumstances that may allow the government to appeal to a particular constituency in this country. I can only say that I have met people who have been and are part of that constituency and it is a different thing when it is their son, their daughter, their aunt, their friend, their relative who is in difficult circumstances.

We have seen the government act in a way that is capricious and we cannot have a situation of picking and choosing Canadians we are going to help abroad. Nor is it lost on people how unseemly it is for individuals to have to take their cases to court because of a government that hides behind its royal prerogative to help or not to help.

The Conservatives campaigned a few years ago on a platform of standing up for Canadians. It is too bad they do not do it when it comes to Canadians abroad unless they are embarrassed into doing it, until they are forced to do it or because someone who happens to be well connected to their party made a phone call saying they ought to look at it.

There is the case of Mr. Kapustin, for whom the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism quite rightly went to bat, but there are hundreds of other Canadians like him. There is Brenda Martin. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities went to see Bashir Makhtal in Ethiopia. It was very laudable, but there are hundreds of Canadians who find themselves now caught in a situation where the Minister of Public Safety wants to use some undefined, unspecified and very arbitrary decision-making power that is contained in this legislation to choose who is and who is not going to get the chance to return home.

I cannot think of a better example of why parliamentarians exist, and that is to prevent the unchecked power of cabinet and of the executive to make decisions based upon circumstances ill-defined, certainly in legislation.

We have every reason to worry about this. Canadians travel for many reasons such as business, education, tourism and volunteering at work. They should not commit crimes whether they are here or whether they are elsewhere around the world, we know that. However, we know that some, unfortunately, will.

We also know that Canadians may be convicted in the context where the presumption of innocence is ignored, where prejudice against foreigners, human rights violations and unsavoury policing techniques lead to convictions of innocent persons. We also know that sometimes harsher sentences are imposed on foreigners than on nationals, and I have a number of examples of experiences with this. The possibility of serving the remainder of a sentence in Canada, in my view and I think the view of what we have seen in practice, may alleviate these perceived and sometimes real injustices.

Should Canadians have the right to be transferred? If, indeed, the conditions of incarceration amount to what would otherwise be considered matters of cruel and unusual punishment, in this case and as this legislation from the Conservatives proposes, should they be at the mercy of the minister's whim in the evaluation of such critical and crucial decisions? I think not.

I ask Canadians to look beyond this bill before us called keeping Canadians safe. They should look at it and scratch back a bit of the surface. It is wonderful and we all want to be safe, but there is nothing that binds Canadians together more than recognizing that we believe in the ability of an individual to rehabilitate themselves.

We have an excellent correctional service system in Canada, of that I have no doubt. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is this transfer of offender treaty that allows many people, who would otherwise find themselves permanently in jail, incarcerated, tortured, deprived of the very basics of human rights because of a ministerial whim, to return to a country that has forsaken them.

This is not a question of making a point about good people and bad people. If they are jail in other countries, there is probably a very good reason for it. However, all too often we see there are extremely important examples of where people have been put in jail through no fault of their own.

What do we do with Mohamed Kohail, who just a few months ago was sentenced to death? That sentence, we hope, will be lifted at some point. What about William Sampson, a case which I was directly involved with, who was about to be executed? We worked with those countries and we worked to ensure that our relations with those other nations were paramount so that the life of the Canadian in this case, and we hope in the case of Mohamed Kohail, would be spared.

Canadians are languishing in jails around the world. The least they would expect is for Parliament to give a rubber stamp or a green light to a practice of saying that we may or may not like them, but we do not want to tell them why we may or may not like them.

My hon. colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer, raised a question about a particular case. I know the case very well because it was one of an individual who is bipolar and who had done something obviously wrong, but at the end of his time in prison, half his sentence was served, the American government and the State of Florida said that he could return to Canada, that they had no quarrel with it. However, the Conservative government that said, no, that it wanted to keep him there. It knew he was bipolar and that he had difficulty. It knew he did not get treatment while he was in that facility, but it did not want him back.

The right of a Canadian to return is a right that cannot be compromised or changed by judicial discretion or ministerial indiscretions, and that is of great concern to members of Parliament on all sides of the House.

If I sound passionate, it is because I back up what I say with action. I call on the Conservatives to back off on this nonsense. There is no reason to have this kind of legislation. When Canadians, who I think are extremely intelligent on these kinds of things, have an opportunity to look at it, they will not be fooled. They will not be fooled by “keeping us safe” when it is in fact tantamount to making Canadians unsafe.

People who return from torture and squalor in another nation and have been kept there because of the discretion of the minister will not come back programmed to go back into society. Let us understand this. They are not folks who have committed an offence in Canada. They get off the plane, the boat, the train or whatever the case may be and they go into the general public.

Where is our public safety there? The government has to be clean. It cannot confuse messages to be cute, trendy or trite when all it is doing is potentially subjecting Canadians to more harm, while at the same time damaging the lives of individuals who did no crime in Canada.

We understand the transfer of offenders treaty. People commit serious offences in another country. After a period of time, the country agrees, through treaty, to send them to serve out the remainder of their sentence in Canada. People who have committed serious crimes in other countries will have to serve the remainder of that sentence in the Canadian context, and that is very important to stress. They will at least be in a Canadian facility so they can be directed in a way that they can get back on the streets and rehabilitate themselves.

We do not have something like dungeons in our country. We do not torture people in our country. We believe in the ability of people to reintegrate into society at some point. That is, after all, why we call it corrections. By allowing the minister to do this through misadventure, and by supporting an ideology, which I think under scrutiny most Canadians would not accept, is wrong. It is flim-flam and it is not standing up for Canadians but rather trampling on Canadians.

In my time as a member of Parliament, dealing with some of these cases, I have often thought it interesting when I visit someone who has been in jail and has been tortured. It is interesting and depressing to know that the person has only one link to Canada and that is a Canadian citizenship. People fought for our liberties in the Boer War, the first world war, the second world war and the Korean War. What our young men and women are doing in Afghanistan today is making our country proud. I think the last thing on their minds would be to see us compromising our framework of legal, democratic bodies of law that protect Canadians at an instant.

For the members of the government on the other side who have proposed the legislation, it is not only flawed, but it sends the wrong message. It does not improve Canada's image and it does nothing to protect Canadians. It does not do a service to those men and women who have given their lives and continue to make our country proud on a number of fronts.

We should talk to our police about Canadians who have returned and the importance for rehabilitation through our correctional services. Every person has the ability to change. Some may not, but if they have not committed a crime in Canada, we should give them the benefit of the doubt. The facts bear out. How many Canadians have returned under the transfer of offenders treaty and offended? Not one.

The argument made to justify this legislation is false, it is misleading and it is a fraud. I would suggest to all members of the House that this does not deserve the debate in committee. There are only a couple of amendments, including changing “must” to “shall” and giving the minister discretion that, in his or her opinion, the person should or should not return.

I do not think that discretion should be given. I do not think there is a basis for it. I do not think there is an argument for it. Anybody who takes the time to really consider what has been offered here must recognize that the facts speak louder than political or ideological rhetoric. I am convinced that we should not only leave well enough alone, but that the problem is not evident. As my colleague just said a little earlier, it is not broken, so let us not try to fix it.

I look forward to questions from members of Parliament, but I want them to know one thing. I would stand up for any Canadian requested by any member of Parliament from any party. I am here to stand up for Canadians. This is not an ideological issue. The Conservatives should come to their senses.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Madam Speaker, the member said this was all about a whim. Bill C-5 is about ensuring the Minister of Public Safety may consider public safety as part of the decision making process for the transfer of offenders. The bill includes a factor that in the opinion of the Minister of Public Safety the offender's return to Canada would endanger public safety. It would allow the minister to consider, among other things, the safety of victims, the safety of the child and the safety of members in the offender's family, factors such as whether the offender was likely to continue criminal activity in Canada.

These are the principles on which the minister would base his opinion. It is far from being a whim, opinions such as an offender in poor health, or has co-operated with law officials or has acknowledged harm done to victims and communities. Those are the factors not whims that the minister would use in his discretionary power. These are sensible changes and they are about their commitment to protect the rights of victims or commitment to increase the responsibility of offenders.

There is nothing wrong with increasing the responsibility of the offenders. It is a part that the member does not speak to at all. When he speaks about the whim of a minister, it is not about the strength the minister has, it is about strengthening our commitment for the rights of victims.

I would like to know where he thinks that there is a not a responsibility of offenders. What about making our communities safer as a whole?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not sure if the hon. member listened to my speech, but I find it kind of ironic that a minister of the executive of the Crown would ask for more discretion and more powers.

She is a member of Parliament. Part of the job of ensuring that Parliament functions for the benefit of Canadians abroad is to talk about facts, truth and to ensure that there is a balance to ensure every minister is accountable.

If the minister reads the legislation, and I encourage her to do that, it is “in the opinion”. It is up in the air. It is loosey-goosey, airy-fairy. Parliament will not give a blank cheque to that minister or his party. Nor should it give it to any other party that happens to be in power.

I know she heard about zero cases of recidivism, but if she has no confidence in Correctional Service Canada and, for instance, the United States department of corrections, which releases the Canadians into Canadian authority, to make an assessment as to the risk, the likelihood of harm of individuals, then why not just say it.

She should say that she does not believe in our correctional services or our border services. It is nice to talk about these things, but when we put them on the slightest scope of scrutiny, the minister's comments fall to pieces. The minister is basing legislation on nothing. The foundation is that it must be based on public safety.

If she is concerned about public safety, why would she not have a system that gives people the rehabilitation so they can get back on their feet and not reoffend? What the minister prescribes is a recipe for more danger and will make Canadians unsafe.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed the member's speech. I found the minister's question disingenuous at best. As we all know the government, not only the current government but previous governments, has denied dozens of transfers. That has existed under the old act. The current act allows for that and it tells the minister what criteria must be given consideration.

What we have is a framework that has worked in all cases except one. In that one case now, in a typical Conservative case of absolute legislative overkill beyond belief, the Conservatives are now taking up House of Commons time for one case where the judge found that the minister had not done his homework, had not done his due diligence.

Therefore, the Conservatives craft this up on the back of a napkin, throw it into the House and with the due disregard for democracy that we have seen through the numbers of prorogations over the last few years, we see another middle finger given to Canadians generally. A bill is brought in, even though the need for it comes from one case where a judge, quite rightly, found that the minister had not done his homework. Now we are spending parliamentary time working through this.

I know the member has long experience in this regard and has intervened a number of times. What does the member think is behind this Conservative attempt to eat up parliamentary time? What does he think of the Conservatives' hypocrisy on crime issues? For example, this week a Conservative member called police officers and chief of police a cult because they disagreed with the Conservative government.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, what the hon. member is asking me is interesting. In fact, it is appalling and shocking that we would hear this from a Conservative Party, attacking police in this country

As members probably recall, on a number of cases, whether it was child exploitation, whether it was dealing with people who evade police, or whether it was dealing with ensuring that the forward-looking infrared cameras on police helicopters were used to detect signature places that might be marijuana grow ops, I have always received the support of law and order police associations across this country, and I am proud of that. However, I am absolutely shocked that people who profess to be in favour of law and order have attacked the very people who are standing up for us. There is a consistency and a pattern here. It is not about keeping Canadians safe. It is, “If you don't agree with me, I'm going to scandalize you; I'm going to be involved in name-calling”.

I think the Conservative Party and some of its members ought to grow up and recognize that there are people in this country who, day in and day out, are giving their best for this nation. They also do it recognizing that if they find themselves in difficulty, and I have met many police whose children, friends and relatives find themselves in difficulty, they need to know that their government is going to stand up for them, regardless of what party, regardless of the politics.

Why is this bill here? This bill is here to try to deceive people. It is not even well written. It would give the minister all sorts of powers. It is a power grab against innocent defenceless Canadians. Shame on that government for introducing it.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the member this. As part of the international treaty, if we refused to bring a whole bunch more Canadians back, because of this bill, could the Americans then refuse to reciprocate and not take their people back, so that we would have a lot more dangerous American criminals in our prisons?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Yukon raises a very critical point. If Canada is going to walk away from, change, modify, circumscribe or subject its legislation, its legal framework of treaties with other nations, to the whim of not only the Minister of Foreign Affairs but the Minister of Public Safety, this is an embarrassment of tremendous proportion. I could not even possibly understand or even delve into what this does, in terms of ramifications. Are the Americans, the Australians, the Brits, the Europeans now to say that Canada's position on law and order, on the question of treaties, is based on which way the wind is blowing?

We know the current government is going to spend a considerable amount of time fighting Canadians when they have made the request to return home through the Federal Court and the Supreme Court of Canada. Consistently those courts have said, when it comes to the transfer of offenders treaty, that these people do not present a breach or a threat to national security; they are simply exercising the rights that all citizens within those treaties in both bilateral nations have. For that reason, I think it is really incumbent on Canadians again, when they see this little thing under here that says “keeping Canadians safe”, to know that it is not.

We have to ensure that legislation fits the bill to ensure Canadians can be given a modicum of protection. This legislation goes in the wrong direction. It is not even unintentional. It is very intentional. It is meant to deceive. The Liberals have called this for what it is. It is a fraud.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the member for Pickering—Scarborough East and I am quite interested by his comments. I do think some of the comments have been a little bit more torqued up and partisan, to be honest, than what I would have expected. But one of the things I really question, from the comments from the member, is that this is a bill that has an interest in putting public safety at the forefront of this legislation. Should it not be that the minister has that kind of discretion to stand on the side of Canadians and victims of crime to protect them when in certain circumstances they—

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I understand the member's passion about this. But his passion is obscuring the reality and the facts from him.

The truth is that Canadians need to come back from another country under the transfer of offenders program to get rehabilitated, to make his streets in Orillia and my streets in Pickering safe.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today and debating Bill C-5, to which the Bloc Québécois objects.

Before continuing, I would like to mention a practice to which this government increasingly resorts, even though it verges on the grotesque. The Conservatives have developed a habit of giving ridiculous names to bills instead of focusing on the legal nature of the bills. Our parliamentary tradition is to identify the real purpose of a bill, but the Conservatives are increasingly giving them subjective names in order to sway people's opinion.

People watching us on television can see what we are discussing today at the bottom of the screen. It is the Keeping Canadians Safe Act. The government is trying to imply that people who oppose Bill C-5 are also opposed to keeping Canadians safe. It is totally ridiculous.

There are more examples of this increasingly common practice in other items on today’s agenda, for instance Bill C-13, the Fairness for Military Families Act. I do not want to go into this bill right now but there is obviously already a very subjective twist in the title. We also have Bill C-4, Sébastien's Law. It is even more pathetic because they are trying to take advantage of our horror at the type of tragedy that befell young Sébastien, who was killed in battle. The title implies that anyone who honours Sébastien’s memory should support the bill and anyone who dares to oppose it is against honouring his memory. It is totally absurd.

We saw it as well in the budget. They talked about an act to stimulate economic activity in Canada, or some other aberration of the kind. Another Conservative bill was called the trafficking of minors act, even though the word trafficking did not appear anywhere in the bill. Honestly.

This practice must stop. I do not know whether the bill before us today will go to committee, or if the others will, but I hope the committees that study them will be more objective and will give them names that reflect the legal reality. Today, for example, we are discussing the International Transfer of Offenders Act. That is the real name of the act. People can agree or not agree, but that is what this bill is really about.

If this practice continues, things will get absolutely absurd. There will be a bill to make Canadians happy or put them in good shape and good health or some fine bill to make things better. This does not make sense and should stop. I find this practice, which comes to us from the United States, particularly detestable.

Members may well remember George W. Bush introducing the Patriot Act after the attacks of September 11. It was anti-terrorist legislation and the purpose was to imply to the senators and representatives voting on it that if they were opposed, they were not patriots.

This completely subverts the debate and, most of all, insults our intelligence. It implies that people are not smart enough to discuss the heart of the issue. They think they are going to simplify things by calling it the Keeping Canadians Safe Act and everybody will be in favour because it is about the safety of Canadians.

This is a dangerous gamble on the part of the Conservative government. I would rather appeal to the intelligence of people. I think we can discuss bills just fine without giving them grotesque names.

It starts as the Keeping Canadians Safe Act.

In future, if Parliament wanted to amend this legislation it would have to call it an act to keep Canadians even safer than the Keeping Canadians Safe Act currently does. You can see where this is going. It is utterly ridiculous.

I want to come back to Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. The issue before us is the following. Under the current International Transfer of Offenders Act, what factors does the minister have to consider in determining whether to transfer a Canadian sentenced abroad to Canada or to transfer an American sentenced in Canada to the United States? I am giving the United States as an example, but obviously this applies to all countries.

The current legislation has a certain number of factors that the minister must take into account. He must, for example, take into account the person's health. He must ask himself whether the foreign prison system satisfies recognized principles of basic justice and rights for all. Has this system violated the basic rights of an individual and does it represent a risk to the individual's health and safety? For instance, has the individual been handed over for torture?

This is already in the act, but the government wants to make a change. The act would say that the minister, instead of having to consider all these factors, could consider them, but is not required to. Just imagine. He can look into whether the person incarcerated abroad is being tortured. He might like to know that, but then again he might not. Are the basic rights of the person incarcerated abroad being violated? The Conservatives may or may not be interested. They want the minister to have more discretionary power.

The Bloc Québécois obviously has serious reservations about this. We are already aware of the government's contempt for the rule of law and its contempt for our basic principles of natural justice. Leaving aside the government currently in power, what about a future government? We have to stick to the rule of law in place.

I will digress for a moment. This debate might seem a bit technical for many people at home, but there is something even more fundamental, which is our sense of justice. Do we want to continue to defend the rule of law and the system of natural justice? It is not easy; it is an ongoing battle, and it is intellectually challenging, since it is not necessarily what comes naturally for people.

Do we want to go back in time, to systems that slowly but surely become more and more arbitrary, subjective and inconsistent? Today's legal systems are sometimes complex. The public often believes that the system is costly and complicated and does not always work well. But if we look at the evolution of humanity, we have made incredible progress compared to what was done during medieval times.

People may tell me that is quite a stretch, but I think it is important to keep that perspective. In medieval times, people were tortured and imprisoned for no reason. The king made the decisions, and it was summary justice. Later, people realized that this did not help control crime, that human beings were too intelligent for it, and that we should develop systems to ensure independent justice with effective results.

At the time when certain countries first banned torture, it was not even on humanitarian grounds. They believed that if someone was tortured in order to get them to admit something, that person would always end up saying what the torturer wanted to hear. That is clear. If we want to convict someone, we can torture them and they will incriminate themselves. Does that really serve justice? Of course not.

Our western societies and those elsewhere in the world have developed a rule of law based on numerous principles. I will not list them all, but I will talk about those that I believe to be important.

First, there is the presumption of innocence. According to this principle, we assume that a person is innocent. It is too easy to accuse someone without any proof, to tarnish his reputation and interfere with his rights. We believe a person to be innocent until proven guilty, which is not easy. It tends to go against human nature. When a reprehensible and sordid murder has been committed and the police arrest someone, we want that person to go to jail and suffer. We say that we can sense that he is guilty.

A system has been put in place to curb that tendency and consider a person to be innocent until proven guilty.

The Canadian system also provides for the possibility of rehabilitation, which is important, and even fundamental. If we did not believe that a person can be rehabilitated, why would we hand out sentences other than life in prison? If we believe that someone will be a criminal their entire life, why release them? Our laws allow for different prison terms because we believe that a person can be rehabilitated at some point. We try to gauge that.

We believe that everyone has the same rights. The Conservative government often attacks this principle with an extremely unhealthy populism by saying that the opposition members—the Bloc Québécois, the Liberals and the NDP—are defending criminals. We are not defending criminals but defending fundamental rights and the fact that everyone should have the same rights. If they are not the same for everyone, then they are no longer fundamental rights. Defending the fundamental rights of a murderer is never very popular. However, fundamental and universal rights apply to everyone, even murderers and people who commit the most horrific crimes.

Under the rule of law, everyone is entitled to a fair trial before an unbiased judge or jury, in which the various parties have an equal opportunity to prove the guilt or innocence of the individual in question. These principles seem rather basic, but the government is undermining them more and more by meddling with the rule of law.

We believe that the powers of the executive branch and the judiciary should be kept separate. It is not up to us as elected officials, and especially not to ministers who are biased and have their own convictions, to determine who should be convicted or acquitted based on the law. Parliamentarians pass laws, but it is the judges and the judicial system that, separately, must enforce legislation and determine who has obeyed and who has disobeyed. Lastly, there must be a mechanism to correct cases of wrongful conviction.

Bill C-5 has only a few clauses. It might seem insignificant, but it could attack the principles I just talked about and could represent a considerable step back.

I have three examples.

Let us consider the case of Maher Arar. Hon. members will recall that this Canadian was deported on the strength of false information obtained by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's secret service. He was tortured abroad and finally returned home. A commission on the Arar affair completely exonerated Mr. Arar, proving that he had no connection with terrorism. The Canadian government did not apply the principle of the presumption of innocence in Mr. Arar's case. He did not get a fair trial. The separation of the judiciary and the executive was not maintained in his case. In fact, it was the executive that authorized his deportation, first to the United States and then to Syria. Today, the government is asking us to give it even more power. Is it so that the government can attack our system of natural justice even more?

Let us consider the case of Allen Smith, who was convicted of a series of murders in the United States. Admittedly, Mr. Smith is no choirboy, and defending him is not a very popular thing to do. But even without defending Allen Smith, we can defend people's basic rights. In Canada, we believe, or at least it is the position of this Parliament, that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment that goes against our belief in the right to life. If this is true in Canada, then it is also true in the United States. It would therefore be fair to ask the Americans to give this Canadian citizen the same treatment he would receive here, which would mean commuting his death sentence to life in prison. But the Conservative government could not care less about the principle of the rule of law, where everyone enjoys the same rights, or the principle of separation of the executive and the judiciary.

When questioned in the House of Commons, the government answered that, in its opinion, the crimes committed were very serious and that, therefore, it would not intervene. Since when is it up to the minister to assess the seriousness of the crime? That is something new in our system and it is deplorable. It is not up to the minister to make that assessment, but up to the courts, which must establish whether or not the person is guilty and decide on the seriousness of the crime and the appropriate punishment. Furthermore, it is the House that passes the laws to punish various crimes. It is not the minister who decides whether or not to apply them.

In the case of Omar Khadr, it is even worse. Without exception, all the principles I mentioned previously have been violated. Omar Khadr is a child soldier who was arrested seven years ago and is still imprisoned by the Americans. He has not yet been put on trial. He is accused of killing American soldiers and, despite a Supreme Court decision, the government refuses to ask for his return to Canada.

There is obviously no presumption of innocence in his case. Nor does he have equal rights. His cruel treatment, bordering on torture, has been contracted out to the United States. He has not had a fair trial after seven years of imprisonment. There is no separation between the executive and the judiciary. The government has told the House that, in its opinion, the crimes are serious and therefore it has decided not to intervene, as though it was up to the minister to decide. The possibility of judicial error was not examined in the least. The government absolutely does not want to hear about the possibility of rehabilitation if—I did say if—Omar Khadr is found guilty.

Since I mentioned the possibility of rehabilitation, I would like to close by saying that we have to keep in mind one thing about this bill: if this bill is passed, the number of Canadians serving sentences abroad will increase. These Canadians, once they have served their sentences, will return here and will not be ready to be reintegrated into society. In many cases, it would be better to return them to Canada and have them serve their sentences here so that they are in a better position to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on the various elements of his presentation. Since he is a Quebec member too, I would like to know what he thinks of the fact that the Archambault Institution has a special wing for prisoners with mental illness, such as bipolar disorder. When incarcerated in foreign prisons, especially in the United States, such individuals do not receive appropriate care and medication. They are ignored, more often than not. Unfortunately, when they do receive medication, it is not necessarily the right kind.

I would like my colleague to tell me whether he agrees that when individuals with mental illness are incarcerated abroad, they should be brought back to Canada as quickly as possible so that we can take care of them. That way, when they have finished serving their sentences, they will not be a danger to Canadian society.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I agree with what my colleague said. My speech was focused on the principle of equal rights.

In Canada, we believe that we must invest money and put these types of wings in our prisons. That is the least we can do to properly treat people with mental illness. We want to adopt universal principles, but why, when we cross the U.S. border, is this no longer necessary? The United States is perhaps not the best example, since they have a rehabilitation system, and in some cases, a support system for prisoners. However, in some parts of the world, they do not care about mental illness. Some countries even believe that homosexuality is a mental illness. That is not something that is taken into account in some places.

If we want to do something sensible, reasonable and in line with our values, we must look after and repatriate the individuals who have sometimes committed atrocious crimes. We must give them the treatment they need, and make them participate in appropriate rehabilitation programs. They will then be better able to reintegrate into society once their sentence is over than if they had been left in prisons abroad, where they would have no access to services or treatment. In many cases, they would return to Canada even more deranged and unbalanced than they were before they committed the crime.

That is the right thing to do. We must not shut our eyes because we find the crimes shocking. We must be rational and let our values dictate our actions.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I really enjoyed the speech delivered by the member for Jeanne-Le Ber.

Basically, Bill C-5 seeks to concentrate decision-making power in the hands of Conservative ministers yet again. Over the past few months, and especially this week, the government and its ministers have certainly displayed their culture of entitlement.

This bill was introduced because one judge presiding over one case questioned the minister's judgment. This was one case in which the minister did not do his job, and as a result, hours and hours were spent debating a law that does not need to be amended, and certainly not like this.

I have a question for my colleague. Does he think that the Conservatives' sense of entitlement is even greater than that which Justice Gomery observed in the former Liberal government?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I do not want to offer an opinion as to which of the two governments is worse. Neither of them is without fault. I gave the examples of Maher Arar and Omar Khadr. These two cases represent a problem for the current Conservative government, which has refused to act, but we cannot forget that both of these cases began under the Liberal government, which also failed to take responsibility.

The purpose of my speech is not to talk about Bill C-5 in detail because many in the House have already done that. I am more interested in trying to focus on the bill from a different angle. Bill C-5 is not the end of the world and democracy is not falling apart. It is simply another step backwards. We are moving in the wrong direction towards an increasingly arbitrary system and further from our fundamental values, with more political influence at the expense of justice. That is what is happening and that is what I wanted to talk about.

Those before us fought for justice, for rule of law and for important principles that are difficult to defend. They are difficult to defend, for one, because those sitting across the way are rather backward-thinking and each time we defend these principles, they claim we are defending criminals. I am not going to take the simplistic approach of the Conservatives. I believe that people are intelligent. I know that those listening to us realize that a judicial error, such as being falsely accused, can happen to anyone, including the hon. Conservative members across the way. It can happen to anyone. That is why we need a solid legal system and why we need to stop attacking and weakening it, which is what is happening with Bill C-5. We must be strong in our convictions and accept that justice can sometimes be frustrating, because it takes longer and is expensive. That, however, is the price we pay to live in a society where justice prevails.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, in reference to the beginning of the speech by my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber, I would like to ask him whether he thinks that the title of the Keeping Canadians Safe Act should also include highway traffic acts, the National Building Code, transportation standards, fire safety standards, dangerous goods, nuclear power and pretty much everything else.

Does the member think that this government is trying to weaken the political class and undermine the place of politics in society? They are coming from a neo-liberal ideology holding that the less politics, the better.

Is giving fancy titles to micromanaging legislation just one more way to chip away at the powers of the people's representatives?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to show just how absurd this kind of title is. The opposition is saying that it is a bad bill. What would happen if the title of the bill were amended in committee to “not keeping Canadians safe”? We would end up in a completely senseless debate on semantics that would be a disgrace to the political class.

What is clear is that the Conservatives are trying to derail the debate. They are trying to distract everyone. They are taking a simplistic approach to try to make people believe that Bloc members are against keeping Canadians safe, and that they are the bad guys, while the Conservatives want to keep Canadians safe and are the good guys.

In the long run, the Conservatives are taking a risk by underestimating the public's intelligence. At some point, people will realize that the Conservatives are taking them for fools. Voters do not like that. Even though it is difficult, the Bloc Québécois believes that people are intelligent, and we believe we can explain to them that even though the title of this bill says it will keep Canadians safe, that is not the case.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 22nd, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, today I rise to share my thoughts on Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, with my colleagues.

I want to begin by stating that my deepest desire is to see an environment that promotes safety everywhere in Canada so that all Canadians can be safe no matter where they are.

There are many ways to achieve that goal. Today we are debating one of those ways.

Bill C-5 would amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. This bill would enable the government to request the transfer of Canadian prisoners serving sentences in countries other than Canada.

Bill C-5 is part of the Conservative government's extreme law and order agenda. The militant western Conservative base strongly supports this vision.

Make no mistake about it, this bill is an opportunistic attempt to garner votes. It seeks not only to protect Canadians, but also to get the law-and-order Conservatives re-elected at any cost.

According to the bill summary, one purpose of the bill is to enhance public safety. Clause 3 adds another objective to the Act:

The purpose of this Act is to enhance public safety and to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals.

I think that if we add this new objective and give the minister discretionary powers with respect to factors he may take into consideration, the minister will be able to use public safety as grounds to deny as many requests for the transfer of Canadians incarcerated abroad as possible, thereby undermining all of the other objectives of the Act.

I will attempt to show that this bill will weaken public safety, not enhance it. Prior to this, the notion of public safety was, in practice, limited to terrorist threats and threats of war against Canada or against the general population.

In a Federal Court case, Getkate v. Canada (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), the judge had this to say about public safety:

—the Court also finds that there is no evidence on the record demonstrating that the applicant constitutes a potential threat to the safety of Canadians or the security of Canada. While the minister attempts to invoke the section as a means of demonstrating that the applicant poses a general threat to Canadians should he be returned to Canada, use of the phrase “threat to the security of Canada” has traditionally been limited in other legislation to threats of general terrorism and warfare against Canada or threats to the security of Canadians en masse. In the case at bar, while the applicant may pose a general threat to specific pockets of Canadian society should he re-offend, he clearly poses no “threat to the security of Canada” as the term has been interpreted in other legislation, such as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act...or the Canadian Security Intelligence Services Act.... If the threat to Canada was the mere risk that the offender would re-offend, then such a consideration could be applied to every inmate seeking a transfer.

In this matter, the judge set aside the minister's decision.

Is this bill the minister's way of reacting to the judge's decision in the Getkate case? Is it an attempt to close the door to any judicial control over decisions? It is already very difficult for a judge to set aside a minister's decision.

I am not a legal expert but I know that, to be set aside, a ministerial decision must be found to be “unreasonable”. The burden of proof was very high for the individual and he had little chance of winning.

However, in the Getkate case, the judge set aside the minister's decision, despite all his discretionary power and the substantial burden of proof.

Bill C-5 gives the Minister of Public Safety a great deal of discretionary power and opens the door to abuse of power.

Under the current act, the minister considers four factors in determining whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender. Those factors are: whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada; whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence; whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada; and whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.

Bill C-5 gives the minister some very important additional discretionary power. The minister may consider other factors. The bill does not say that the minister does or shall consider these factors, but that he may consider them.

These are the factors added in the bill:

(b) whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the offender’s return to Canada will endanger public safety, including

(i) the safety of any person in Canada who is a victim, as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, of an offence committed by the offender,

(ii) the safety of any member of the offender’s family, in the case of an offender who has been convicted of an offence against a family member, or

(iii) the safety of any child, in the case of an offender who has been convicted of a sexual offence involving a child;

(c) whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity after the transfer;...

(g) the offender’s health;

(h) whether the offender has refused to participate in a rehabilitation or reintegration program;

(i) whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which they have been convicted, including by acknowledging the harm done to victims and to the community;

(j) the manner in which the offender will be supervised, after the transfer, while they are serving their sentence;

(k) whether the offender has cooperated, or has undertaken to cooperate, with a law enforcement agency; or

(l) any other factor that the Minister considers relevant.

This list includes everything but the kitchen sink. It is broad. It is a very significant power to put in the hands of a single person, especially when we know that the current government is a government of law and order whatever the cost. This is all very subjective and is an attempt to win votes.

We live in a democracy based on the rule of law where every decision must be fair and meet objective criteria.

I sincerely believe that when we entrust so much power to a minister in the absence of any objectivity, we may be abandoning Canadians to the whims of this government. When the public no longer knows how the government will handle requests, it may lose confidence in a system that is neither fair nor transparent.

I would like to read an excerpt from an article by Nathalie DesRosiers, professor of law at the University of Ottawa. Ms. DesRosiers was the dean of the faculty of law and she is speaking on behalf of the Civil Liberties Association about Bill C-59, which preceded the current Bill C-5 before the unnecessary prorogation of last December:

Even if some Canadians believe that Ministers in Canada would never make decisions based on such sordid grounds as political contributions, there is the appearance that they may. Indeed, the lack of boundaries to such discretion prevent an analysis of whether a decision is fair, sound and wise, based on a consideration of all factors.

It also prevents any legal accountability. This, in my view, is going in the wrong direction. Although politicians certainly have the power to conduct international relations on behalf of Canada: they should want to exercise it in a way that is fair and transparent. The absence of rules prevents Canadians from knowing how they will be treated and exposes the government to charges of favouritism when they act or refuse to act. Indeed, when a white Canadian is repatriated speedily from Mexico while an Afro-Canadian is left in jail in Sudan, Canadians wonder whether the government is acting fairly and reasonably or in a racist manner. A stronger legal framework helps dispell such accusations and allow for more transparent ruling.

I believe we must not only avoid putting decision makers in positions that could lead them to abuse their power, but we must also avoid any appearance that they may have such power.

I would like to share with my colleagues the case of a young constituent from Hull—Aylmer, who is currently being detained in a penitentiary in Florida after being found guilty of crimes committed in the United States.

Mr. Speaker, since my presentation on this young resident could take several minutes, I suppose we should stop now so that you can proceed—

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 3:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Prime Minister of Canada went to China in 2009, he said that he would teach the Chinese government about human rights. He said:

And so, in relations between China and Canada, we will continue to raise issues of freedom and human rights, and be a vocal advocate and an effective partner for human rights reform, just as we pursue the mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both our countries.

But Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which we will be opposing, makes it clear that the Prime Minister and the members of his government have nothing to teach the Chinese government. Allow me to explain.

Under the current International Transfer of Offenders Act, when the Minister of Public Safety agrees to a request for transfer back to Canada of a Canadian imprisoned abroad, he shall consider a number of factors, including whether the offender constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, if he has social or family ties in Canada, if he is truly a resident of Canada, what is his state of health, and so forth. In the case of a young offender, what is best for the youth is the main consideration when making a decision.

There is another key factor, set out in paragraph 10(1)(d) of the existing legislation, and that is “whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender’s security or human rights.” Bill C-5 replaces the term “shall” with “may”. Therefore, the minister “may consider”.

Consequently, it would be up to the minister to decide whether or not to take into account threats to the human rights or to the security of the Canadian citizen being held abroad. He would no longer be required to consider the human rights. He could, if he so wished.

That means that if a person is held abroad for committing any crime, even drug trafficking, they must remain in that country even if the minister knows they are being tortured. If that country engages in torture, the minister could, arbitrarily, decide not to consider this factor for any number of reasons.

The minister can make such a decision for a variety of reasons. It may be because the offender is homosexual or does not belong to the same church as the minister. The minister may consent to the transfer. Who knows, maybe the offender's father is a big party backer. That is the power that comes from “may” rather than “shall”.

Anything is possible when an arbitrary decision is made. Even the craziest reasons can come into play. Maybe the offender once ran for election against the minister and plans to run again. There is the potential for serious demagoguery.

Making arbitrary decisions that affect people's basic rights and security could lead to situations that are unacceptable and completely absurd. For example, a 20-year-old Canadian woman—this is a hypothetical but quite plausible situation that could happen anytime—might have to serve a lengthy sentence abroad for attempting to smuggle drugs. She might be held in extremely difficult conditions. She might be raped by her guards and suffer all kinds of abuse. And the correctional service and another government organization could tell the minister that this makes no sense.

This person should be returned to Canada because the living conditions in the country in question are dangerous and pose a threat to her physical and mental well-being. But with this bill, the minister could decide quite arbitrarily not to take this information into account. He could sign on the dotted line and refuse to bring the offender back to Canada, saying that her return would endanger public safety. He could also wait a year or two before giving an answer, just as he does now. It is just as serious, but that is another story.

What is most serious is that making the decision arbitrary not only helps feed rumours about a government, but opens the door to abuse, corruption and collusion.

I seriously doubt that this government wants to enhance public safety with Bill C-5, because the current international transfer law is based on balanced criteria under which the courts can exercise appropriate oversight over the minister's decisions. The minister must consider certain factors. When there are controls in place, checking is done. Case law shows that judges have ruled that the minister was wrong or right.

With this bill, the government appears to be looking for a way to prevent the transfer of more prisoners, probably because it is of the simplistic belief that keeping these people in prisons outside of Canada will better protect the public. Unfortunately, in many if not the vast majority of cases, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that keeping Canadian prisoners overseas was a good way to protect Canadian society. In the end, the majority of them come back to Canada. They are Canadians. We cannot revoke their citizenship. Who knows—maybe they are planning to introduce a bill to revoke criminals' citizenship. These people are Canadians and they will come back. What condition will they be in when they do? Will they have taken part in programs?

The truth is that very few countries offer programs. In Canada, however, the correctional system offers a lot of programs. Right now, programs get 2% of the funding they need. I think we should increase funding for federal programs provided by the Correctional Service of Canada to 10%. Our system looks pretty good compared to those of other countries. However, the truth is that these programs are underfunded. When we compare ourselves to other countries, we see that at least people here may have access to programs provided by the Correctional Service of Canada.

It is highly likely that Canadian prisoners incarcerated in countries that do not offer such programs will be dangerous when they return to Canada. I have been to countries where the prison system is utterly antiquated and where people are crammed together in rooms. There are all kinds of prison systems in the world. We cannot expect that prisoners will have access to good rehabilitation programs. Individuals who return to Canada may or may not have had access to programs. They will be dangerous when they come back here. They will not have been rehabilitated, and they will not be monitored by the Correctional Service of Canada.

When prisoners are transferred, the Correctional Service of Canada takes responsibility and monitors them until the end of the sentence. What we have now are people who come back here after serving their sentence and are not monitored at all. Which is the better way to protect society? The answer is self-evident. Which is the better way to protect offenders? Yes, there is some ideological conflict here. Protecting society requires prisons and a certain degree of repression, but that is not all it takes. Rehabilitation, prevention and many other strategies are critical to protecting society, and they all require funding.

Many experts now say that international transfers already enhance public safety because they help ensure that offenders who would not have had access to rehabilitation will automatically have access by entering the federal system in Canada. As a result, these people, instead of being deported without having received any rehabilitation, will be sent to our system where they will have access to all of that.

The 2006-07 report from Correctional Service Canada stated that offenders who are not transferred are usually deported to Canada at the end of their sentence, without correctional supervision and without the benefit of programs. Therefore, international transfers play a key role in rehabilitation, and ultimately in protecting the public.

Let us be clear: the sole purpose of this bill is to give more discretionary power to the Minister of Public Safety, regardless of which government is in power. The bill will enable a public safety minister to do whatever he or she wants. That has nothing to do with protection. In fact, if the Conservatives are telling us that they want to strengthen this legislation for more protection, then they should not remove the words “shall consider”. They should be left as they are. They could add some criteria, but they should not remove the word “shall”; it should be left.

We see how this government treats Canadians and Quebeckers abroad, so we have to wonder: do we want to give this government more discretionary power? Would it not be risky to give any government more power? A government already has a lot of power, so would giving it more increase the risks?

Here is an example. Ms. Mohamud is a 31-year-old Canadian citizen who went to Kenya to visit her mother. She was unable to return to the country because she was accused of having stolen a passport. She was told that it was not hers. Eventually, after a long fight, this woman was able to prove her innocence. She is currently suing the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, the former minister of public safety, the member for York—Simcoe, and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs for $12 million. Furthermore, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is accused of intentionally or negligently failing to conduct a competent investigation of Ms. Mohamud's case, and he is also accused of intentionally defaming Ms. Mohamud by implying to reporters that she was dishonest, that she was not who she said she was, and that she had committed criminal misconduct.

Are we supposed to trust people like this? Impossible. We cannot give them carte blanche. It does not matter who the minister of public safety is, now or in the future. They should not be given discretionary powers when physical safety or human rights are at issue. That is fundamental.

This bill paves the way for arbitrary decisions in terms of respect for human rights—and that is a threat to democracy—and opens the door to possible corruption or collusion.

If this bill is passed, the minister of public safety, no matter who it is, could decide that certain factors are more important than others when determining if someone should be transferred, all without having to take into consideration the individual's physical safety, health, family ties in Canada or basic rights. The minister could, as the bill states, take into consideration any factor he considers relevant. This leaves the door wide open.

This could lead to all sorts of problems: those who donate to political parties could be subject to a different standard of justice than other people, and the minister would have full rein to justify his decisions.

It will be impossible to prove cases of collusion or corruption because the minister will have the right to do whatever he wants and establish any criteria that he considers relevant.

If the government really wants to rid the international transfer system of all partisanship and collusion, it only has to ensure that the minister has the duty to take into consideration the criteria established in the legislation. And, yes, I said “duty”.

In closing, I asked myself a question. I asked myself why this law needs to be amended. According to most of the literature, this law works well and does a good job at protecting society, even more so because the minister has the duty to take this criterion into consideration.

The minister currently has some latitude in deciding whether or not to transfer someone. And if we look at case law, the Federal Court has backed most ministerial decisions. The best example is the De Vito case in which Justice Harrington of the Federal Court agreed with the minister's decision, even though the RCMP and Correctional Service Canada recommended that he be repatriated.

So why should we change a piece of legislation that works? Perhaps the government is trying to ensure it has the authority to eventually refuse to repatriate the child soldier Omar Khadr, if he is ever tried and sentenced. The United States wants to send him back to Canada, but the government does not want him here. But with this, if he is tried and sentenced, it will become a matter of international transfer. The Canadian government has already trampled this young man's rights, as the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized, but I have a feeling this bill will seal his fate.

Helping someone whose life is in danger is a fundamental principle for Quebeckers. This right is enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The government's Bill C-5 flies in the face of the fundamental values of Quebeckers. This bill is completely consistent with the Conservatives' anti-human-rights ideology.

In any case, we watched as the Conservatives gladly cut several programs that allow people to fight for their rights. All United Nations member countries have signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, although the French title speaks of the rights of “Man”, I believe that women are people too, so “human rights” is better, but that is a different argument. As everyone knows, enforcing and recognizing these rights is problematic in a number of countries. It all lies in the ability to say either “I must” or “I cannot”.

I think the Prime Minister is leading Canada towards becoming that kind of country. In fact, he is working hard to do so, and is doing a good job of it.

I cannot wait for the day when we separate from Canada and we can create our society without the shackles of Ottawa, build a country that reflects our values, a country that knows how to defend the rights of all members of its population without exception, without arbitrary decisions, without collusion and most importantly, in a very humane manner.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, this is just another bill in a long list of Conservative crime bills that show more of a desire for publicity over substance.

For 30 years the transfer of prisoners has occurred in this country in very small numbers. Very few are being rejected. The fact is that people who are brought from other countries go right to jail in Canada where they get into proper rehabilitation programs. If we were to leave them in jails in other countries, they would come back to Canada eventually and they would have had none of the training and rehabilitation they would have received had they been in Canada.

This is all window dressing on the part of the government with an eye on improving its position in the polls. We have to expose that for what it is. Having said that, all bills can be improved in committee and I do not have a problem with that. However, we should be exposing what the government's real intention is. There really is not a problem to be fixed in the first place. The system is working reasonably well but it is another situation that the government can take advantage of for short-term publicity gain.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I have to agree with my colleague. That is just what I have been saying over and over again as I watch this government's justice and public security measures: they have just been for show. In short, I would say that its only achievement—if I can call it that—has been prorogation.

A number of justice and public security bills were on the table. They were very important to the government, but then we had prorogation. To date, not many have been brought back. However, the government is serving up leftovers and making a big show of it. It wants the people to believe that it is working on ensuring public safety.

Yesterday in committee we heard from Mr. Sullivan. He told us very clearly that the government took imaginary action against the so-called criminals. The witness did not use the word “imaginary”. That is my word. The government has done nothing for the victims. The witness was unable to give me a percentage for comparison. If we were to make the comparison for him, we would see that the government was putting more emphasis on sentencing. Its crime bills have never amounted to much. The government is unable to get things done.

It likes to blame the media or the opposition. However, it was neither the media nor the opposition that prorogued Parliament. It was the government.

The government is just warming up the leftovers of its so-called tough on crime legislation. It is not tough at all, because these bills do not amount to anything. These bills are supposedly going to strengthen something, but in fact, they provide nothing but rhetoric about punishment. These bills do not punish intelligently; they are intended to punish for punishment's sake. To punish intelligently, we could send people to prison to rehabilitate them, for instance. The Correctional Services' budget for such programs is 2%.

They are going to build prisons, but not implement any programs. They are going to abolish prison farms. They are not going to provide anything for the victims but they are going to put people in prison.

If this keeps up, soon the Conservatives will reinstate the death penalty. That would solve their problem and it would cost less. They are going to lock people up and throw away the key. It is not clear whether they can or want to pay for the lethal injection. Maybe they will consider a bullet to the head, which costs only 35¢. Such is the government's policy.

The worst part is that the government will not admit it. It quietly introduces bills to try to get its ideology through. It does not even have the courage to face the issues. I challenge the government to do so.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her fine speech and the great work that she does in the public safety committee.

From reading the international transfers annual report for 2006-07, I have noticed that over the last 10 fiscal years, 26.9% of the people requesting a transfer requested a transfer to Quebec. Offenders are asked when they apply for a transfer to indicate their region of choice on their application. I also noticed that from 1996 to 2006, an average of 22 offenders a year requested a transfer into Quebec. However, in 2006-07, the very first year of the current Conservative government, that number was cut in half. Only 10 transfers of offenders from outside the country were approved to transfer to continue to serve their sentence in Quebec.

I wonder if my hon. colleague has any comments on the current government's approach to the rehabilitation of offenders. I also wonder whether or not she questions the government's commitment to Canadians being able to serve their sentences in a jurisdiction like Quebec where they might get better rehabilitation than they would in a prison in the United States, Colombia, or one of the Conservatives' other favourite countries in the world that they think we should be dealing with.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. He, too, does very good work on the committee.

When an offender requests a transfer, he does so to be closer to his family. The underlying principle of reintegration programs is to allow individuals, once they have served their sentence, to have ties that help them return to society as law-abiding citizens. To do that, they must have support. They need a family to help them. They need friends, a job, housing, there must be something waiting for them when they get out.

When we look at these figures we realize that Quebeckers ask to go home to serve their sentences. Ontarians do the same thing and return to their province—their nation—not just because they will have access to programs that will help them be better citizens, but also because they will have access to community support.

Some offenders have children. They do not want to stay in Colombia for 15 or 20 years. They want to see their children again and it would be cruel not to allow that. Children should not pay for their parents' mistakes. They must not pay for them. They are also victims. The offenders' spouses are also victims. There must also be some compassion.

My colleague gave the example of an offender held in Colombia or any other country that disregards human rights. Whatever crime that person has committed, he will serve his sentence in Canada. An international transfer does not mean that a prisoner hops a plane at government expense and comes home to frolic in the fields. It means that the Correctional Service of Canada picks the offender up at the airport and places him in an institution where he will have access to programs.

But programs are not treats, and they are not put in place just for fun. Programs are put in place so that criminals, offenders and inmates can become law-abiding citizens. Are they set up just for humane reasons or out of charity? They are mainly there to protect society. That is key.

One hundred inmates who have not had access to a program are far more dangerous than 100 inmates who have been transferred and have had access to a program. That is key.

I would like to remind the House about something that the current Minister of Public Safety inadvertently talked about in committee when answering a question from a party colleague. Referring to international transfers, he said that people wanted to come to Canada to serve lenient sentences. But who are these people? They are not Colombians; they are Canadians. They want to come home to serve their sentence, and they have the right to do so.

The Conservatives talk about lenient sentences, but they did not even want to do away with the possibility of release after serving one sixth of a sentence. So what are they talking about? The minister says that inmates can be released after serving one sixth of their sentence here. But that is the Conservatives' fault. If they had just done away with that possibility, there would not be a problem anymore.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the New Democrats on Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. By way of background, Bill C-5 is virtually identical to former Bill C-59, which was introduced in November 2009.

When Parliament prorogued, Bill C-59 died before it received any debate in the House. It was one of a suite of criminal justice bills, 17 as a matter of fact, which bills were actually killed by the government when in December last year it chose to prorogue Parliament and hold up much of the legislation that Canadians want and hold up the debate on many of the issues that ought to be debated.

Bill C-5 contains amendments to the International Transfer of Offenders Act. It would be helpful for all members of the House to consider the history and background of this act. Canada has had legislation providing for the international transfer of offenders both from Canada and into Canada since 1978. The International Transfer of Offenders Act was enacted in 2004 and replaced the old Transfer of Offenders Act.

The act essentially provides a mechanism for a foreign national imprisoned in Canada to apply for a transfer to his or her home country to serve the remainder of his or her sentence. Similarly, the act provides a mechanism for a Canadian citizen imprisoned abroad to apply for a transfer back to Canada to serve out the remainder of his or her sentence here in Canada.

As I said, the old act and the current act together have been in force for over three decades in this country. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have been in power and overseen the administration of this legislation. Liberal governments and Conservative governments have overseen the transfer and repatriation of Canadian citizens back to Canada.

Between 1978 and 2007, which is the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics are available, 124 foreign nationals were transferred out of Canadian jails, and 1,351 Canadian citizens were transferred back to Canada.

The purpose and principles of the act are quite clear. The current purpose of the act is defined in section 3, which states:

The purpose of this Act is to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals.

The Correctional Service of Canada has a website dedicated to the International Transfer of Offenders Act. This website gives more detailed background about the principles underlying the international transfer mechanism. I will quote from that. It states:

Canadians incarcerated in foreign countries often find themselves facing serious problems coping with local conditions. The most common problems involve culture shock, isolation, language barriers, poor diets, inadequate medical care, disease and inability to contact friends and family....In some prison systems, the offender's family is even expected to provide food and financial assistance. The purpose of these agreements is humanitarian to enable offenders to serve their sentence in their country of citizenship, to alleviate undue hardships borne by offenders and their families and facilitate their eventual reintegration into society. Once transferred, the offender's sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of the receiving country.

In the case of offenders, Canadians coming back to Canada, that means serving their sentences in accordance with sentencing principles of Canada. I want to emphasize that those are not my words that I just read. Those are the words of the Correctional Service of Canada. That is the description by the people we entrust, who have expertise in carceral policy in this country. It has been the policy of this country for 30 years. These are the principles the government seeks to change by this very flawed, poorly conceived, unjust and totally ineffective legislation.

Let us consider the current process for a transfer application under the act. For a transfer of a Canadian citizen to take place, the offender must consent to the transfer, the country where the offender is currently imprisoned must consent and the Canadian government must consent. Let us be clear. This requires tripartite agreement of all of the actors and it requires them to agree in every particular case, without which the transfer application will not proceed.

The Minister of Public Safety is then designated to review all applications for offender transfer. The present act specifies the factors that the minister shall consider when evaluating an offender's application for transfer. In section 10, four criteria are outlined. Let us consider whether these criteria are appropriate.

First, the minister must consider whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada. Right there, the national security of Canada is four-square in front of us as a criterion that must be considered. Second, the minister must consider whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as his or her place of permanent residence. Again, this is not a provision for fair-weather Canadians who then want to seek the protection of Canada. This is for Canadians who happen to be abroad when a criminal offence is committed by them.

Third, the minister must consider whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada. Fourth, the minister must consider whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights. These four criteria have been applied successfully and well by every government in this country for over 30 years. However, the current government suddenly has problems in applying these criteria.

I will pause here to say one thing. My research indicates that not one offender, who has been granted a transfer back to Canada to resume and serve his or her sentence, has ever reoffended. I think that the changes proposed by Bill C-5 will reveal to all Canadians and members of the House how poorly this bill is conceived. Bill C-5 seeks to add the words “to enhance public safety” to the purpose of the act. I am going to come back and talk about that in a minute because of course everybody is in favour of public safety.

The act currently states that the minister shall consider the factors that I just outlined. Bill C-5 would change this to read “the Minister may consider the following factors”. Bill C-5 also seeks to add the phrase “in the Minister’s opinion” to the existing factors laid out in the act. Bill C-5 would also add seven new factors, once again that the minister “may” consider.

I am going to stop there to say that the Conservatives have taken a judicial, legal process under a statute of Canada and have essentially said that the only Canadians who can be transferred back into this country, who have been convicted abroad, are people that the minister wants. That is it. There is no judicial way to challenge that. There is no legal way that a person could compel the minister to consider certain factors. It is whatever the Minister of Public Safety wants.

That is bad public policy and I would say that whether the minister of public safety was a New Democrat, a Liberal, a Bloc Québécois member or a Conservative. It is wrong.

There is a saying that we use in law schools to describe completely arbitrary law. We say that justice is measured by the length of the chancellor's foot. It might be six inches, eight inches or 10 inches. Nobody can ever tell because it is whatever is subjectively in the mind of that chancellor.

This is exactly the kind of legal thinking that typified our system 300 years ago, much before we had concepts like human rights, due process or rule of law. I would not expect the government to understand that, considering some of the legislation I see coming out of it.

These are some of the factors that the minister may consider: whether the offender is likely to engage in criminal activity in Canada, the offender's health, whether the offender has participated in rehabilitation programs, the manner in which the offender will be supervised after this transfer, and whether the offender has co-operated with police.

Let me stop here and say a couple of things. Think of this in terms of public safety. Say we had a Canadian serving a sentence in a Pennsylvania prison, much like David Radler, the person involved who was convicted and testified against Conrad Black. By the way, he applied under this legislation and was approved by the government to come back and serve his time in Canada. I did not hear the government complaining when a multi-millionaire applied under the International Transfer of Offenders Act and was granted the ability to come serve his time in Canada. I heard not a peep from the government.

However, if a person applied from Pennsylvania and came to Canada, that person would be coming here directly to jail. There is no public safety component to that. If that individual is serving time in a U.S. prison, that individual would continue to serve the time in a Canadian prison. There is no public safety aspect whatsoever. That individual is not coming back to this country to actually re-enter society. That individual is coming back to Canada to re-enter penitentiary.

One might say that people are going to be released into custody. This the major flaw and absurdity of the bill. When those people finish their sentence in Pennsylvania, the first thing the United States is going do is deport those offenders back to Canada and Canada has no choice but to receive them. So those people are coming back into Canadian society at the conclusion of their sentence no matter what. I will talk in a minute about how foolish that is and how this act actually makes Canadians safer by having those people transferred to a Canadian jail.

I want to talk about public safety because public safety is important. New Democrats agree that enhancing public safety should be given consideration when considering any piece of legislation that comes before the House. However, in this case the government has not presented one iota of evidence that public safety is being compromised under the current act. Nothing. But I have heard the public safety minister as well as members of the public safety committee say that they do not care about statistics, they do not care about the facts. They think they can define what are good criminal penal laws in this country by what they think or feel as opposed to the data.

It is important to remember that Canadians transferred back to Canada under the act are not being released immediately into the community and again, they are returning to serve out their prison sentence in a Canadian correctional facility.

I mentioned earlier why I think that public safety is enhanced by granting prisoner transfers. Offenders who serve their sentence in Canada will be subject to the oversight of a parole officer, released with conditions that must be followed ,and can have their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community carefully planned and monitored. The offenders who are sitting in a Pennsylvania jail or a Mexican prison have none of those things.

Offenders who serve their time in a foreign jail often have no rehabilitation, no programs, no substance abuse programs, no mental health programs, often nothing. In fact, often it is the case that they do not even speak the language of the country in which they are imprisoned.

Most importantly, Canada has no record of offenders who are not transferred back to this country, when they are released from a foreign jail and come back to Canada. They will come back to this country and we have no criminal record. We have no record of them serving time in prison. They will come back and they will be treated as a first offender if they do ever commit a crime in Canada.

Whereas, if they are transferred to a Canadian prison, we will have records. It will not be the criminal record. We will have records of them being in a penitentiary and then of course again, when the offenders are released into the community we can actually spell out the conditions of that release and supervise them. So it is actually less safe to pass this legislation. The Conservatives are endangering Canadians by passing this legislation because it will result in fewer people who are being approved for transfer.

I want to talk about whether there is actually a problem to be fixed here. The act is working. The Conservatives are trying to build a narrative that says that Canadians are being endangered because the Conservatives do not have enough power to deny applications for transfer. Again, I will trouble them with the facts.

From 2002-07, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, 367 applications for transfer were approved by the ministers involved and 24 were denied. So 367 times both Liberals and Conservatives decided to bring an offender back to Canada. Of those 24 denials, 3 offenders applied for judicial review of the minister's decision. One case was a denial based on the fact that the offender had spent 10 years in the United States and was deemed by the minister to have abandoned Canada as his or her place of permanent resident. So the federal court judge made a ruling stating that the court should not readily interfere with the discretionary decision of a minister and held that the minister's findings were not unreasonable.

Another case was a denial because the minister held that the prisoner had been identified as a member of a criminal organization and that the transfer would threaten the security of Canada. In that case, the CSC gave advice to the minister that the transfer would be highly beneficial and that the individual would not constitute a threat to the security of Canada. Nevertheless, the judge held that the decision of the minister was reasonable and the denial was allowed to stand.

Of the three denials, two cases were challenged and the minister's discretion was upheld. In the third case, the minister again made a denial on security grounds. The judge in that case, however, found that the decision of the minister was made with disregard to the “clear and unambiguous evidence” presented by the government's own officials. In this case the judge referred the decision back to the minister for re-determination.

The government points to this one case where a judge has overturned a ministerial denial, and on this basis it says, “Oh, we need to tighten the law”.

There was another case reported earlier this year, however, that I think is probably more revealing of the government's true feelings on this. This is where the judge did order a reconsideration of ministerial denial. In this case four individuals were convicted together of a single crime. Two of the individuals had transfer applications approved, but one was denied despite the unanimous recommendation of senior government officials.

The judge ruled that the minister's decision was inconsistent and arbitrary, and he gave the minister another 45 days to explain and justify or to reconsider the decision. This seems to me to be a very appropriate balance and a fair ruling, and yet the government continues to argue that it needs changes to this act.

I think this is the case, that the government wants to act arbitrarily and the current legislation prevents it from doing that. There has not been any case made that there is any reason to depart from the current scheme of the act, other than the government wanting to politicize the process and hand pick whoever it wants to come back into this country.

Again, the problem with Bill C-5 is that it does not strengthen the act, it shreds it. It does not strengthen the guidelines for the minister, it essentially eliminates them. Bill C-5 dictates that the minister may take certain facts into consideration, but then again he or she may not.

In the current act, the factors are presented as objective standards that can be evaluated by officials and, in the rare cases where it is necessary, ruled upon by a judge.

Now this opens up the process to bias. It does away with transparency and accountability. It allows the minister such wide-ranging discretion to ignore criteria completely and use his or her own subjective opinion as the test as he or she deems appropriate. That is wrong because it replaces an established law-based process with a politicized subjective one.

We might ask whether the government can be trusted to exercise discretion fairly. For New Democrats, this question of trust must be answered, unfortunately, in the negative. The government has demonstrated it cannot be trusted with unfettered power, whether it is the power to prorogue Parliament, or to hire and fire watchdogs and oversight officials, or to approve George Galloway, a British member of Parliament coming into our country and exercising his right of free speech as opposed to Ann Coulter who made derogatory and racist comments about many individuals.

We know what the government will do. It will exercise its political ideology instead of acting as fair and judicious public officials in this country.

With this bill the government proposes that the minister should be given absolute power and absolute discretion over who to bring back to Canada and who to leave overseas. It will do away with the judicial avenue for review by framing the minister's decision in such discretionary terms that it would be impossible for anyone to successfully argue that the act had been violated.

I want to ask, how do other countries feel about this? Because Canada has agreements with many countries for the reciprocal transfer of offenders. This is not just a Canadian plan. This is a program that involves dozens and dozens of countries. I suspect that if we ask other countries how they feel about the government wanting to essentially restrict the international transfer of offenders, which works beneficially for citizens of all countries, I would bet that those countries would express their displeasure to the government.

I want to talk a little bit about the politicization of justice because that is what I think the government is doing. If members go outside the Supreme Court of Canada or any court in this land, they will see a statue of the scales of justice with a blindfold on the statue, the goddess of justice. That is there for a reason. It is because justice ought to be objective and blind. It needs to have fair rules and fair law-based processes that apply to everyone equally, and not to allow judges to hand pick and not be accountable for their decisions by writing the rules that say it is whatever they think it is.

I want to end with a quote from the International Transfers Annual Report 2006-2007, which states:

In the 29 years since the first international transfer took place with the United States, there has been a steady increase in the number of agreements in place with foreign countries...increasing the number of applications received for processing...and of the number of offenders transferred to and from Canada. It ensures that offenders are gradually returned to society and that they have the opportunity—

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I commend my friend for his eloquent and passionate speech however misguided it might have been.

I have a couple of specific questions.

The current legislation talks about “threat to the security of Canada”. I am sure my friend knows, because of his research, that this phrase has been interpreted to apply only to terrorists. Is he not concerned that this is too narrow a definition? Should public safety also apply to offences that happen domestically in breach of our own domestic laws?

Would he also not agree with me that the absence of victims, the safety of any person in Canada who is a victim as identified in section 2(1), or the family of a victim, or the safety of any child in the case of an offender who has been convicted of a sexual offence involving a child are glaring omissions from the current legislation, all of which would be remedied by Bill C-5?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, the short answer is absolutely not. I will say this again. Bill C-5 would add this factor to the act, “whether, in the minister's opinion the transfer will endanger public safety, including the offender's victim, family or any child in cases where the offender has committed a sexual offence involving a child.

Once again, I do not know if my hon. friend listened to what I said. The offender in the foreign prison is coming back to society anyway. This amendment does not change that fact. The only question is whether anybody in the House wants that person to come back to our country treated, have any programming, or subject to any conditions. Under my hon. colleague's premise, the offender would be granted the transfer, would stay in the foreign prison, would come back to this country to go right after the victim and we would not even know it.

I know my friend is a learned counsel. I would think he would stand and tell the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety that this is a bad law. That will endanger victims in this country.

Again, this is what the 2006-07 report from the government said:

An analysis of the information contained in this report doesn’t only demonstrate that the purpose and the principles of the International Transfer of Offenders Act have been fulfilled; it supports that the International Transfer of Offenders program is consistent with the Mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and its Mission Statement in that the program contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control [is being met].

Those are the facts.

The definition of national security has not been restricted to terrorists. I quoted from a case earlier where a member of a criminal organization was barred entry under that by the minister and that was upheld by the courts.

I believe the protection is in the act.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member's speech and to the question from the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

I gather the member supports sending the legislation to committee for an Extreme Makeover, as the television folks would say. I do not think he had time to flesh out what he might think this over-discretionary “any other reason the minister may take into account” means.

It seems to me that with the existing protocol, with the additional reasons, which we may or may not agree with, it is the catchphrase “may any other factor” that troubles us on this side of the House. We cannot imagine any other factors. Is it not the point that all of the presumed, existing and potential factors be put in the legislation so lawmakers can understand what discretion the minister may use? Discretion to be used has to be carefully guarded and defined.

I ask him to blue sky, or black sky, or whatever that might be about what those other reasons may be. I also want him to answer clearly whether his party will vote to send the legislation to committee.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, again, the question strikes at one of the major flaws with this bill, which adds a section to a bill that says to a minister that he or she may consider any other factor that he or she considers is advisable. That is simply bad law. It is a bad statute. It is a bad way to implement any kind of public regime. We may as well just say that the people who can apply for transfers back to this country are Canadians whom the minister thinks should. I would ask any of the lawyers in the House how we would challenge such a decision if that were made.

The government has a history of not protecting Canadians abroad, and the prime example is young Omar Khadr. He has sat in a foreign prison when every other country has repatriated their foreign nationals who have sat in that illegal dungeon on Guantanamo Bay. However, the Conservative government will not return Mr. Khadr back to our country to be tried or dealt with in some fashion here. This person has not been tried yet, has not been convicted, yet for years and years has sat in a jail cell, probably tortured, in fact undoubtedly tortured.

This is the kind of discretion that the government wants to give the minister. Frankly, not only should this government absolutely not have that kind of discretion, no responsible government in Canada should have that kind of discretion.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the critic has done a terrific analysis of the bill. I question the government's commitment to victims. It talks a lot about victims' rights and about how it supports those, but even its own victim's advocate, whom it appointed three years ago and whose contract will not be renewed, indicated last night that he thought the government was not doing what it could for victims, that it was more concerned with sentencing than it was with the rights of the victims. I wonder whether the government even consulted with victims and their groups with regard to the legislation.

How is the government helping victims by leaving criminals untreated in a foreign country? When they come back on their own, which they will eventually, how does that help the victims?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, Mr. Sullivan, the outgoing ombudsman for victims, said quite clearly yesterday that victims were very interested in the rehabilitation of the offender. In fact, they want to be informed of it. They want to be alerted to it. It is key to their healing that the offender, in their eyes, will not reoffend. This legislation is counter to that.

Mr. Sullivan also pointed out that longer sentences, which is what the government seems to be pursuing as a plank in its criminal justice program, did very little for victims. Those are not my words. Those are the words of its appointed ombudsman for victims, who has done a great job speaking up for victims in our country.

The New Democrats, and I cannot say it more clearly, are a party that supports the rights of victims more than anybody. Our party, more than any, has championed the rights of the most vulnerable, the most marginalized of every type in our country for a long time.

Let the nonsense end here. For any party to stand in the House and say that we do not care about victims is just false and not true.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this House today to speak in favour of Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

This legislation would further strengthen our government's track record of keeping our streets and communities safe for everyone and to ensure that those who do commit crimes are held responsible for their actions.

Since coming into office in 2006, our government has made the safety and security of Canadians one of its top priorities. That is why we have pushed forward with a series of measures to get tough on crime, especially violent gun crime. For example, members will recall that in the last session of this Parliament any killing linked to organized crime would automatically lead to a charge for first-degree murder.

To further combat the reach of organized crime, this government has also introduced legislation that imposes mandatory jail time for those involved in serious drug offences. In addition, we have passed laws that address drive-by shootings and other intentional shootings that brazenly disregard both our laws and the right of all Canadians to their safety.

We have passed legislation that gives added protection to the police and peace officers who put their lives on the line every day that they go to work. I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Canadian Police Association who have been visiting us on Parliament Hill the last few days.

Offenders have always done their best to go undetected and the rapid pace of technological change has made this easier than ever. Hidden in the dark alleys of the information highway, offenders are attempting, and often succeeding, at stealing the very identity of their fellow Canadians.

I am proud to remind all members of the House that this government has passed tough new laws that help the police and the courts fight the scourge of identity theft.

However, the wheels of justice often turn more slowly than we would like. As a result, there may be considerable time spent by an individual in pre-sentence custody. I am very proud that the government has passed laws that limit the amount of credit offenders will receive while in pre-sentence custody. In this way, the guilty will serve a sentence that truly reflects the severity of their crimes.

These are but a few examples of the government's efforts and accomplishments to keep our communities safer, to ensure that offenders receive appropriate sentences and to ensure that the rights of victims are heard and respected.

However, as the Speech from the Throne notes, our work is far from over, and I am pleased that this government has already taking further action.

Members will recall that the Minister of Public Safety recently reintroduced legislation to strengthen the national sex offender registry. This measure would provide additional protection for our children from abuse and exploitation.

With that background, I am pleased that our Conservative government has reintroduced amendments that would strengthen the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

As members will recall, and as the last speaker correctly identified, Canada has been a party to international treaties relating to the transfer of offenders since 1978. Since that time, 1,531 Canadian offenders have been transferred back to Canada, while Canada has returned 127 foreign national offenders in our prisons back to their countries of citizenship. The initial legislation, which was modernized in 2004, now, in the interest of public safety, has to be amended once again.

Currently, the Minister of Public Safety is required by law to take several factors into account when considering a request for a transfer. These include: first, if the offenders returned to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada; second, consideration of whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence; third, the offender's social or family ties to Canada; and, fourth, whether the foreign entity or prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights. No doubt, these are important considerations which ought to be taken into account. However, there are deficiencies.

Nowhere in the current law is there any specific mention of protecting the safety and security of law-abiding Canadians. Nowhere in the current law is there any specific mention of victims, family members or children. I would submit to the House that these are serious omissions that the bill before us would certainly correct.

Moreover, Bill C-5, when passed by the House, will allow the minister to consider a number of other factors when considering offender requests for a transfer. Specifically, the Minister of Public Safety will be able to consider situations where an offender who requests a transfer to Canada has refused to participate in career, vocational or educational programs while incarcerated in another country. The minister will also be able to take into account the circumstances in which the offender, if transferred to Canada, will be monitored and supervised after his or her release. This is especially important, given that one of the purposes of the act under consideration will continue to be contributing to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community.

Bill C-5 would also allow the minister to take into account several other very important considerations when assessing an offender's request for a transfer. These are as follows: If the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she has been convicted, including acknowledging the harm done to victims and also to the community; and, if the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity if the transfer is successful. These considerations should surely help to guide decisions about whether to grant a request for a transfer from an offender serving a sentence outside of Canada.

Currently, there is no clear legislative authority for the minister to take those matters into account. Bill C-5 would surely remedy these deficiencies, while providing the minister more flexibility in the decision-making process itself.

I will now highlight how the proposed amendments would help keep Canadians safer, because I believe all members of the House are interested in keeping Canadians safe. The amendments before the House would add public safety as one of the purposes of this legislation. These are two simple words but these simple words will clearly reinforce the government's commitment to ensuring that Canadians, their families and their children are safe and secure in their communities. At the same time, the amended legislation would ensure that offenders remain accountable for their actions, both in Canada and abroad, and continue to be treated fairly and equitably when they are making a request to be transferred.

The legislation as it stands would empower the Minister of Public Safety to assess an offender's potential security risk when considering a request to transfer back to Canada. However, as I indicated in my intervention with the previous speaker, the notion of a threat to the security of Canada has been linked solely to terrorism threats to Canadian people as a whole. We believe that is too narrow and must be expanded to include public safety risks to Canadians domestically and locally in their own communities. The bill would add to this by including as a factor whether, in the minister's opinion, the offender's return to Canada will endanger public safety. The Minister of Public Safety will consider, among other things, the safety of victims, the safety of any child and the safety of members of the offender's family.

To further guide the minister's decision-making on these matters, the amendments propose other factors that would add greater flexibility in considering transfer applications. An example as to how this might work in practice is that if the offender is likely to commit criminal activity in Canada, the minister may take this factor into consideration when entertaining the transfer request.

Conversely, this legislation also has factors that would actually assist offenders in making applications successfully. For example, if an offender is in poor health, has co-operated with law enforcement officials or has acknowledged the harm he or she has done to victims in the community, the minister may take these factors into account when considering the transfer request.

I would submit to all members of the House that these are sensible changes and, moreover, much needed. When the minister assesses the potential risk of transferring an offender back to Canada, it is not enough to examine the likely threat to national security. Public safety must also be a principal consideration in that decision, and public safety must include more than threats of terrorism.

This legislation is timely considering that it is National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. It also ensures that helping victims of crime remains at the heart of the government's public safety and justice agendas.

On this side of the House, we have always believed that every victim matters. We are committed to ensuring that victims' voices are heard and their concerns are taken seriously. That is among our highest priorities and why we have taken action on so many victims' rights issues.

The legislation before us is proposing to help further strengthen this track record by ensuring that the safety of victims can be taken into account when assessing a request for transfer. The changes our government is proposing stipulate that the safety of family members and children will be taken into account. This is an important change and a clear deficiency in the act as it currently reads.

The minister would be able to consider the issue of the transfer of an offender with assault convictions against family members and if it would endanger their safety. The minister would also be able to consider an offender incarcerated for a sexual offence against a child in a foreign state and if he or she is likely to commit a sexual offence against a child if transferred to Canada. Surely, these changes are sensible and all members ought to support them.

Bill C-5 would ensure that the Minister of Public Safety may consider public safety as part of the decision-making process for the transfer of offenders. As such, this bill reflects this government's commitment to strengthening the rights of victims, increasing the responsibility of offenders and making our communities safer.

While the amendments before the House today are simple and straightforward, they would have a significant impact on the lives of Canadians who are concerned about the transfer of offenders back to Canada. Accordingly, I urge all members to join with me in ensuring the speedy passage of Bill C-5.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's comments and I will ask him some very serious and succinct questions emanating from his speech concerning public safety.

Yes, it is a goal of legislation and, yes, the words would mean something for sure. However, if a person is incarcerated for a specified term in the United States for a heinous crime or is transferred and put in a Canadian prison for the same term, for that amount of time how does it affect public safety?

The follow up to that is, If that person is in one of the sardine can jails in a state in the United States receiving no treatment, no rehabilitation, nothing, as opposed to being in one of our corrections facilities where corrections means what it means and there is programming—presumably the member still believes in that—how would it not be better for public safety if someone who has committed a heinous crime has treatment if he or she is going to be away from the public for the same period of time anyway?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, surely the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe does not believe that people do not commit crimes while they are incarcerated and that they are not a threat to public safety. They commit crimes against other prisoners, prison guards and prison officials and occasionally they leave the institutions to which they have been assigned and, therefore, become a serious public risk to members at large.

In a more general generic sense, to answer the member's question, this bill and the amendments to it strike a balance. He talked about tin can prisons abroad. They do exist and this legislation strikes a balance with respect to humanitarian consideration for the prisoner. If the prisoner is in fact in a situation where his or her human rights are under severe jeopardy, consideration ought to be given to his or her transfer. However, that concern for his or her human rights needs to be measured against the risk to public safety.

We believe that the legislation before being amended was too concerned with the rights of prisoners and little, if any, concern for public safety. The amendments, which emphasize victims' rights and the rights of the public at large, create the appropriate balance when entertaining these transfers.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I must agree with the comments of the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe in his last question. This bill is largely a PR exercise on the part of the government. The fact that it was introduced before the Prime Minister prorogued the House, setting the whole process back, is once again further proof that the government is not as tough on crime as it suggests it is.

Just last night we had Mr. Sullivan, who for the past three years has been the government's own appointee to look after the rights of victims, criticizing the government and saying that the government was more concerned about punishment than it was with the rights of victims.

We have an act right now that has been working just fine for 30 years. The government now decides, on the basis of one or two cases, that it wants to make these changes and put all of the discretion in the hands of the minister when we in fact have a very good process that works right now and has worked for 30 years. It is politicizing the process so that people like Mr. Radler can get quick entry back into the country, but somebody else who the minister does not like can be quashed. That is not the way to run a justice system.

My question for the member gets back to the whole issue of having these people under treatment when they are in a Canadian prison. He says that they might be attacking other prisoners and guards so we should leave them in the Unites States. The fact is that they will get out of prison in the United States some day without treatment and they will come back to Canada. I would submit to him that they are a bigger danger to public safety when they come back after 10 or 15 years untreated than they would be if we brought them back now and got them treated now.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am confused by the hon. member's question. He talks about how he believes the current system is appropriate and how the current legislation as it reads is effective and then he goes on to cite a high profile example of a Mr. Radler who was transferred under the existing process. If he believes, as he seems to believe, that the current process is deficient, certainly he would support the government's attempt to amend the legislation.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not sure whether the hon. member's speech was his speech or whether it was the propagandists on the other side of the wall. However, I will assume that he understands the bill fully and not just what has been prepared for him here. I know he sits on one of the committees that deals with these things.

He mentioned some sections that he agreed with here in the amendments. There are two things he did not mention and I am wondering what he thinks. First, the criterion under subparagraph (g) simply says, “the offender's health”. Does that mean good health, bad health or indeterminate health? What kind of health does it mean? What kind of a consideration is that when it does not really have any meaning?

Second, in subparagraph (l), at the very end of all of the considerations, the minister has “any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”. Why bother having any factors at all if at the end of it the minister can take into consideration any factor the minister considers relevant? How is that even charter compliant when there are no boundaries put on these considerations?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his good questions. They are technical but I think I can add my interpretation as a lawyer as to what these provisions mean.

When I read subparagraph (g), “the offender's health”, I believe that if the offender is in a state of poor health or requires some imminent treatment for his or her health, that is a factor that will be weighed positively in the offender's application. That is my interpretation of that provision.

With respect to the discretionary provision in subparagraph (l), “any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”, as the member knows, as all members who study these issues ought to know, different countries have different prison systems. It is impossible to predict with any sort of clarity or certainty exactly what type of situation or what kind of conditions a prisoner might be facing abroad or the prisoner's personal circumstances that led him or her to run afoul of the law in whatever foreign country he or she finds himself.

I think the discretionary provision contained in subparagraph (l) is most appropriate because there may be a situation where there is a very relevant factor that ought to be considered but does not fit neatly into subparagraphs (a) through (k). Subparagraph (l) allows the minister to consider a specific and unique issue or consideration under a unique circumstance when it might be appropriate.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-5. As we know, this is not the first time the House has seen the bill. As it has with much of its legislation on crime, the government has accused the opposition of stalling when its measures are not adopted immediately. However in the end, it is the Conservatives, the Conservative Party, the Conservative Prime Minister, the Conservative Minister of Justice and, in this case, the Minister of Public Safety who terminate their own bills and then reintroduce them with an apparent urgency that they have contradicted. Can you say prorogation, Madam Speaker?

If the House is to properly examine Bill C-5, we ought to be talking about the purposes of, and any existing problems with, the international transfer program as it exists. In other words, in broken English, if it ain't broke, why fix it? If the House is to amend the act, we must do so with an understanding of the objectives of the transfer program. I certainly want to make it clear from the outset that we on this side are recommending that we send the bill to committee and that some things can be done to the bill at committee to improve it.

As the current International Transfer of Offenders Act reads:

The purpose of this Act is to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals.

The House is well aware that the purpose of this program is to facilitate the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders.

Correctional Service Canada clearly puts forward the reasons that brought Canada to adopt the international transfer of offenders, as follows:

If offenders are not transferred, they may ultimately be deported to Canada at the end of their sentence, without correctional supervision/jurisdiction and without the benefit of programing.

Whatever amendments we make to the bill, this has to be the overall objective with respect to public safety and reintegration.

It seems to be a flaw in the whole Conservative justice agenda to pretend that no one ever gets out of prison. Well, people do serve their sentences and they get out of prison. They get out of detention facilities. They get out of federal prisons. Many people get out of prison. In fact the overwhelming majority, up to 90% of people, are back on the streets, and what have we done with those people in terms of rehabilitation?

It may be a generalization to say, but I am guessing people serving 10-year sentences in a correctional facility in Texas probably do not get the amount of rehabilitative programing that they do at Dorchester Penitentiary in the county of Westmorland in the province of New Brunswick. I do not have the evidence on that. I am standing on a limb with a wild guess on that, but that is why we have committees and that is why we have the test of evidence at committees, which helps us mould a bill.

Not only does the possibility exist that we may have no idea of a citizen's criminal record in a foreign country, but the act as it stands serves a clear rehabilitative purpose. In other words, people who serve their entire sentence in a foreign jurisdiction are deported at the end of that sentence back to Canada, often and in many cases by administrative fact, without a permanent transfer of the record of what that person has done. So if a person is a dangerous offender and for some reason serves his or her sentence in an American or other jail, he or she could be brought back to Canada without public safety authorities knowing that there is a dangerous offender candidate in the community. That cannot be in the interests of public safety.

Every day, some 2,000 Canadian citizens are incarcerated somewhere in the world. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, authorities here may never hear about it even if the offender has a criminal record, because there is no record of the sentence in Canada. There can be no doubt that Canadians serving prison sentences abroad face serious difficulties. According to the Correctional Service of Canada:

Canadians incarcerated in foreign countries often find themselves facing serious problems coping with local conditions. The most common problems involve culture shock, isolation, language barriers, poor diets, inadequate medical care, disease and inability to contact friends and family.

The Canadian consular personnel in foreign countries provide all the assistance to the incarcerated that they can, but it cannot be a substitute for serving time in Canadian institutions, especially when these people are going to be back on the streets of Canada. The act, as it exists, is well warranted in its intentions and the services it provides in ensuring appropriate justice is afforded to Canadian offenders.

To summarize, the purpose of these agreements is humanitarian in enabling offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship, to alleviate undue hardships borne by offenders and their families and, I would suggest, to marry the objectives that my friend from Edmonton—St. Albert indicated. That is, the dual concerns of humanitarianism and public safety.

The existing act takes into consideration the fact of their eventual reintegration into society. Under the existing formula, once transferred, the offender's sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of Canada, in this case. Quite simply, transfers enable offenders the opportunity of becoming productive members of society, particularly through managing justice and rehabilitation of the offender.

Bill C-5 seems to go against many of the principles that shaped the international transfer of offenders program. The Conservatives have attacked the fact that individuals, Canadian citizens, are being transferred from foreign countries to Canadian prisons to serve out their sentences. The government has, however, approved many of those transfers. While it purports to support strong and effective justice legislation, it enables potentially dangerous consequences through this bill. It is important to underline that the minister and the government, for four years, have used the existing legislation to allow people to serve out their sentences in Canada, when the act already contains a ministerial discretion.

The International Transfer of Offenders Act does not permit a program out of some sense of feeling sorry for the offenders. We ought not to think that everyone on this side is more concerned about the offenders than public safety. In fact the theme of the speeches I am hearing on this side is all about public safety married with the concern for humanitarian and Charter of Rights protections.

If an individual commits a crime in a foreign country, is tried, convicted and ultimately imprisoned, that citizen cannot be guaranteed our sense of Canadian justice, which includes restorative justice and rehabilitation. These are central to the concept of our Criminal Code.

I have often said and I will say again that a Canadian Conservative created the Criminal Code, Sir John Thompson. It is one of the best accomplishments of a Conservative politician in Canadian history, so let us not say I am unfair and overly partisan. I am complimenting a Conservative justice minister and prime minister.

In section 718, there is laid out our principles of sentencing. If we listen to the Conservative news network, we might think that the only consideration for sentencing ought to be punishment, deterrence and locking people away, but that is not our system. That is not what we all believe in. We believe in many principles of sentencing as set out, which in section 718, briefly, are to denounce the conduct, to deter the offender and people generally from doing the same thing, to separate offenders from society, to assist in rehabilitation, to provide reparations and restitution for those wronged and to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders.

That says it all. That is our system of justice. The question is: Does this new act strike a balance, or does it go more to the side of making sure people are far away from society and not a threat to public safety until they are not? Then, coming from some crazed asylum known as the American correction facility of the day, they are let out on the streets in Canada, because I have heard nothing from the other side that they will invoke the Galloway measure, that they will say that an offender, having served his or her time in an American prison, will be barred entry to Canada from, say, the United States.

I do not think the United States would accept that. It would want to deport criminals who have served their time. Make no mistake, these offenders are going to be on our streets at the end of their sentences, whether they serve them here or there. The real question is: Should they serve those sentences, in the best cases possible, and in the majority of cases they are transferred, in a Canadian facility or an American one or a foreign one?

I am dwelling on American facilities because the statistics are fairly clear that an overwhelming number of Canadian citizens serving sentences abroad are in American prisons.

When the individual is released, which will happen, he or she will be deported back to Canada without the effect of our rehabilitative programs.

The degree to which offenders may require help is extensive. Currently one in ten individuals imprisoned is suffering from mental illness. We only have to read the comments of Senator Michael Kirby in the newspapers today to know how important it is on a non-partisan level and something which should unite all Canadian elected and non-elected officials, and how important and grave mental illness challenges are in Canada. This number, one in ten individuals in prison suffering from mental illness, only goes up among female offenders, and the plausibility that citizens imprisoned overseas will not receive appropriate help is real.

I was very involved in wanting to have a resolution to the tragic consequences of Ashley Smith's death. She was from Moncton. She was not treated appropriately by our correction system. I am hoping that the public safety minister will take the recommendations of Howard Sapers and others, including Bernard Richard in the province of New Brunswick, and better our system with respect to incarcerated females, incarcerated youth and those incarcerated who have mental health issues.

As it stands, Canada is party to treaties that allow offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship. The Minister of Public Safety currently decides whether a transfer into Canada of a Canadian citizen or out of Canada of a foreign offender is allowed. The minister already has some discretion.

However, this bill proposes to modify the International Transfer of Offenders Act by changing the words “the minister shall” to “the minister may”. On top of this, it also adds new factors that the minister may take into account.

These are certainly questions that will be launched at the minister, officials of the public safety department and other witnesses at the committee, which is why this bill must go to committee to be studied.

We want to know what these other reasons might be. A law which has wide discretion that does not define the parameters of that discretion is a dangerous law. I would think that would be a very salient factor to consider for us as lawmakers who may be passing, if we pass this part with the open-ended discretion, a law that knows no bounds. It is against our parliamentary tradition.

These amendments are greatly concerning. Considering that this bill will see the transformation of a rules-bound structure into a flexible and absolutely discretionary ministerial duty, this is hardly an improvement on the existing program.

The most recent statistics from Corrections Canada, as has been revealed in previous debates, reveal that there were only 53 transfers to Canada in 2006-07. As far as is known, there are no considerable problems with the application of the program which was amended in 2004.

It does beg the question, and I think in the presentation of the government there might have been an exposition of the problems, what were the problems with those 53 transfers to Canada between 2006-07? Were those people threats to public safety?

From the government's bringing these amendments to this protocol, it is inferred by us that the terrorist protection provisions do work. There were exclusions of those who were incarcerated and who were let out from foreign institutions from Canada based on those reasons, and that is working.

Somehow the public safety issue had not been taken into account. There are 53 cases. Of the 53 cases there must have been something in the government's mind in passing this. There must have been instances where people who were allowed to serve their sentence in Canada should not have been allowed to. They presumably would have served the sentence elsewhere and come back to Canada anyway, so are they not still a public safety risk? It is a question that must be asked at committee.

As it stands, applications for an offender's return to Canada can be refused for a number of reasons. This is the existing regime.

In the past, if the offender left Canada with the intention of abandoning the country, for example, somebody like Conrad Black who actually gave up his citizenship, that was clear evidence he was abandoning the country as his place of residence and in this case citizenship. One reason would be if the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada, or if the offender has no social or family ties in Canada or is linked to terrorist organizations.

The Minister of Public Safety is also required to consider whether the conditions of incarceration pose a serious threat to the offender's safety or human rights. As such, the transfer acts as a means to enhance basic human rights.

Bill C-5, however, would amend the existing legislation so that the minister is not necessarily bound by those fairly sensible criteria. The bill would add a list of factors that empower the minister to use his or her complete discretion as to whether to consider the current and binding standards in the protocol.

Bill C-5 would now see new factors, and they have been canvassed in previous speeches, about whether the offender has sufficiently accepted responsibility for the crime.

Well, the offender is serving the time. I guess what is wanted is a guilty plea from the incarcerated person after the person has been found guilty. I wonder what the importance of that is other than to get satisfaction that a person who has already served his or her time will have to enunciate that he or she did the crime. Maybe there is a question about the foreign systems of law, but we take it in our system that if the person has served the time for the crime, the person probably did the crime. At least in law we find that is the case.

The other factor that is new is the minister is left to determine whether in his or her opinion the offender has co-operated with foreign authorities.

In some cases, the foreign authorities, which is the whole purpose of this legislation in the first place, might not be easy to co-operate with. There might be foreign countries which we do not co-operate with fairly well. Increasingly, the government seems to have a problem with a number of countries and it would seem odd that should be a factor in letting someone back.

Finally, we can see that under the proposed changes there is that basket of “any other factor”. Clearly, at committee that has to be tightened up.

If we look at those reasons, they do not all point to enhanced public safety, as one of the previous speakers, in fact the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, suggested. We are looking for sensibility in this bill. I hope that it will be explained at committee exactly how this would enhance public safety.

What is greatly concerning is that in some jurisdictions there are cases of innocent Canadians accused and convicted who would now have to renounce their innocent or not guilty plea and accept responsibility for an act they did not commit to avoid incarceration in a foreign prison.

I would for once say something very positive about the American justice system. It is similar to ours. It may be even more protective of an accused's rights in that if a person is found guilty in the United States, barring all the John Grisham novels, the person is probably guilty. However, in many jurisdictions there are innocent people who have been convicted.

The person would have to renounce that plea to get back into the country to serve the sentence.

Does this House feel that Canadian citizens should have the right and the opportunity to be transferred if their conviction and imprisonment should result in harsh imprisonment?

Think of the family members who have a son or a daughter who committed a crime in a country where its conditions of imprisonment are very different from ours.

In closing, it would seem to me that this bill is eminently ripe to be sent to committee. Questions that should be asked are: What exactly is going on here? Why is it that the system is not working? Is it that bad? How does it enhance public safety to send back to Canada criminals who have served their time in a foreign jail, with no treatment and are now on our streets?

We support sending this bill to committee. I am looking forward to any questions there may be.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for his observations and comments with respect to this important legislation.

He opened and closed his speech on the same topic. The system, according to him, seems to be working and he is confused as to why we need to amend a piece of legislation if it is in fact working. That is how I understood it.

My specific question is, does he not agree that the absence of any mention of victims, families of victims, or children in the case of an offender who has been convicted of a sexual assault involving a child, in the current legislation is a glaring deficiency and ought to be corrected by a legislative amendment?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I absolutely agree with the member. If we are talking about a Canadian-administered charge and a Canadian court case, I would absolutely agree. In fact, I read from section 718. I think it is evident that is taken into consideration.

We are talking about a crime that was committed in a foreign jurisdiction. Justice was meted out in a foreign jurisdiction. We are talking about a person imprisoned in a foreign jurisdiction. The victim is a non-Canadian national and has had justice in another jurisdiction.

The victims that we should be concerned about are the victims of the crimes that might be committed by someone who was in a sardine can prison in Dallas, Texas and arrives at the Canadian border without having had any rehabilitation or treatment for drugs or anything else and then poses serious public safety harm to future victims. That is what I think is off about this bill.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Roger Pomerleau Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, as the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and many other members, especially those on this side of the House, have pointed out, Canadians who return to Canada after serving long sentences in foreign countries without access to rehabilitation programs and without a record to ensure follow-up will most likely pose a greater danger to society than individuals incarcerated and rehabilitated here who will have a record. That is not rocket science.

I have a question for my colleague. I am not a member of the committee, but I am really surprised at what is being proposed here today. It seems to me that the minister wants to introduce a bill for the sole purpose of giving himself discretionary power. There can be no other reason for this. Can the member explain to me exactly why the minister wants to do this?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question, and I wish his hockey team the best of luck—but not really—in the playoff games against the Moncton Wildcats.

Seriously, I have no idea. I am not a member of the committee either and I am not very familiar with this bill. However, when I read this bill, I can see that there are a lot of mistakes. The main one is increasing the minister's discretionary power. I have no idea why the minister needs more power. This is not a majority Parliament, and the current system is not posing a problem.

That would be a good question to ask the minister in committee.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe makes excellent points, both in his speech and his answers to questions. I think we could apply the old adage to the situation with this bill that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

In the conclusion of the International Transfers Annual Report, 2006-07, it clearly states:

An analysis of the information contained in this report doesn’t only demonstrate that the purpose and the principles of the International Transfer of Offenders Act have been fulfilled; it supports that the International Transfer of Offenders program is consistent with the Mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and its Mission Statement in that the program contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. It ensures that offenders are gradually returned to society and that they have the opportunity to participate in programming that targets the factors that may have led to their offence.

This program has been in effect for 30 years. There is no big outcry to make this change. Now the government, for whatever reason, has decided to focus on this particular bill to essentially give more discretionary power to a minister when in fact we currently have procedures in place under the old act which are procedurally based. The question is, why is this necessary?

This bill will go to committee. We could probably make improvements to every single bill in the House, but maybe not the changes the government wants to make. There are probably some other ideas that the Liberal critic, members of the Bloc or the NDP have that could be added to this bill at the committee stage, but I see no need to fix something that has been working fine for 30 years.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I am absolutely in agreement with the member.

I take comments seriously from credible people like the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. I quoted the principles in section 718 of the Criminal Code and that is what we live by. If that is part of the raison d'être that is great and that should be lauded at committee.

If there is a need to have an extra territorial aspect of this, the apology or the owning up to the crime that is inherent in this discretion, that goes to the victimization in the United States. I suppose if it were reciprocal we would appreciate it. Maybe there is some international law evidence on this that the committee could find out.

Other than cheap politics, I am at a loss as to why the victim's wording is relevant in this legislation. The victimization, as I see it, may well happen on Canadian streets at the end of a served sentence when the person from a foreign country lands here and has had no rehabilitation and is just crazy out for vengeance.

When we get a new victims ombudsman, maybe he or she should give evidence. Certainly the former ombudsman would be a great witness. He has done great work. I cannot imagine why his mandate was not renewed. He would be quite a telling witness now for sure because he has fired many volleys against the ineffective work of the Conservative government with respect to victims.

If this is all about victims, then the committee has its work cut out for it in hearing from people who actually, with respect, know something about it.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member talked about the enhancement of public safety that the Conservatives want to put in this particular bill.

As the member has rightly pointed out, how would public safety be enhanced if we leave these prisoners in their tin can jails in Texas, as he mentioned, without any treatment? How would the public safety of Canadians benefit when these people get out of prison after serving their sentence without having any sort of treatment and they are back on the streets in Canada? How will that improve public safety in this country?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the short answer is that it will not. What will enhance public safety, and we have become very cognizant of this fact in the last few days, is a real commitment to our police and security services across this country. They were here this week and did not feel that the government had delivered on its promises to make our streets more secure or to have more men and women in uniform, and they are not in uniform, patrolling our streets and keeping our communities safe.

I have said this a hundred times. There is not one person in this chamber who is not for public safety and public security. We all should be trying to work toward that. It is just a matter of calibrating it, not recalibrating it, and getting it right.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which is a carbon copy of Bill C-599 introduced on November 26, 2009. This bill amends the International Transfer of Offenders Act to provide that one of the purposes of that act is to enhance public safety and to modify the list of factors that the minister may consider in deciding whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender held abroad.

Let me preface my remarks by saying that we can learn a lot by listening to our colleagues in the House. I listened carefully to the Liberal member who spoke previously. He said that this bill would be studied in committee. What does that mean for the Quebeckers and Canadians who are watching? It means that the Liberal Party will vote in favour of the bill, but will want to improve or amend it in committee.

That is not what the Bloc Québécois is going to do. We have to stop being afraid of the Conservatives' right-wing philosophy. The Liberals are afraid. They wonder what the public will think. A bad bill is a bad bill.

The problem with the Conservatives is that the only place where they see an opportunity to make political gains is on law and order issues. They are trying to make sweeping law and order changes, even though those changes make no sense. Quebeckers have always held onto certain values, and we expect Canadian nationals who commit a crime abroad to be judged according to our values. If not, we expect the country where they are charged to honour our policies and our values. Otherwise, we will return our nationals home.

There are international agreements about offender transfers. This bill is designed to give discretionary power to a Conservative minister. The Bloc Québécois will always be against giving right wingers the power to decide whether or not to return Quebeckers and Canadians home, no matter what they may have done. Depending on the country, charges are laid. I will give some examples. In some cases charges are laid, but six or seven years later, they still have not been processed.

Bill C-5 is designed to give the minister more discretionary power when he decides to transfer a Canadian who is serving a sentence abroad.

Instead of having to take into consideration the offender’s health or, worse, the fact that the foreign prison system presents a serious threat to the offender’s security or human rights, the minister would now be allowed to consider any factors he likes, without being obliged to consider them all. We can see the right-wing philosophy. The government will repatriate Canadians when it suits it to do so, but leave them to their fate when it does not.

But human rights are, by their very nature, non-negotiable. Parliament cannot allow a minister to overlook potential human rights abuses. Every human being, even the most despicable criminal, has fundamental rights.

The Conservative ideologues want to use this bill to give themselves the option of evaluating the fundamental rights of Quebeckers and Canadians on a case-by-case basis, although the courts have consistently ruled against this and have called the Conservatives on it many times. Mr. Smith and Mr. Arar are just two devastating examples.

Knowing the Conservatives' dogmatism, particularly on this issue, it would be irresponsible of us to give them more room to manoeuvre when it comes to negotiating the basic rights of Quebeckers and Canadians, especially those being held in a country that believes that incarceration and mistreatment, such as torture, are the only solutions to crime.

The Conservative government has not provided any factual reasons for amending the legislation. What is worse, the minister has acknowledged that much of what is in the bill is already covered in the act, but says that Bill C-5 spells it out. He also added that he has cases in mind that he does not want to discuss, and these cases would justify the amendments.

Again, we see this right-wing philosophy whereby they are right and everyone else around them is wrong. Our fear is that the government has a hidden agenda.

Why would we trust people who see and present themselves as white knights, but are anything but? Just look at the case of Rahim Jaffer driving dangerously while impaired and in possession of cocaine—he once campaigned for drug free schools—or the violation of the Access to Information Act where criminal offences have probably been committed, or the matter involving the former Conservative minister who just left cabinet, or Mr. Blackburn, who fancies himself above the law, or the Afghan detainee abuse situation.

When we see their attitude toward the court challenges program or the Khadr case, they are anything but sincere. It is highly likely that the Conservatives see this as a way of imposing heavy sentences abroad rather than having to deal with parole and rehabilitation here. That is the crux of the problem.

The Conservatives would like to impose a right-wing philosophy on Canadians and Quebeckers. These are not the values that were passed down by our ancestors. The Conservatives were elected and they represent a certain segment of the population, but, again, the entire population is represented in the House and they have to accept that.

I say that in all politeness to my opposition colleagues. The NDP knows the score, but the Liberals have to stop being afraid of the Conservatives. We, in Quebec, showed them a long time ago what we were made of. The Conservatives have not bothered us in Quebec in ages. People have to stand up to them, not let themselves be run over. Only then will they realize that this American style, right-wing philosophy is not what our ancestors wanted for us. It is not the type of society I want to pass on to my children and my grandchildren.

I will always fight against extremists who, for purely political reasons, decide to manipulate things and change the law. Often, the government takes a piecemeal approach. When something terrible is sensationalized by the media, it decides to change the law. When it comes to law and order there needs to be balance. The beauty of law is in its balance.

We have seen how the Conservatives have attempted to introduce all manner of bills to shift the balance established by our ancestors. It is terrible to see the damage this can do in right-wing societies. The Americans chose the conservative route. We all recall the Republican era: incarceration was the rule, people were sent to jail. A few months ago, the American president had to release 20,000 inmates. He said that because of their lesser sentences, they should not be incarcerated and had to release them because of overcrowding in prisons. That is difficult to grasp. The Conservatives support incarceration but they would like all citizens to carry a gun. It is rather difficult to understand. They want to abolish the gun registry. They would like everyone to be able to defend themselves. They would like to play cowboys and Indians. That is how the Conservatives react.

Once again, that is not the society that the ancestors of Quebeckers and Canadians left them. That is not the type of society that we are used to. It is the Conservatives who want to change that. As I was saying, the Americans are changing course. They tried it and the crime rate did not go down. The prison population has risen and they do not have the money to look after, let alone rehabilitate these people.

The balance I was speaking of earlier is not achieved by simply incarcerating people. We must also be able to rehabilitate them. We have to allow citizens who have committed lesser crimes, who can be reformed, to be rehabilitated. We have to invest the necessary resources and not just use these people or punish them by incarcerating them.

We know that prisons are where people go to learn how to become criminals. First the Conservatives tried everything they could to send children under 18 to adult prisons. That was a terrible initiative. We must rehabilitate criminals, especially young ones. The younger they are, the easier it is to instill new values. This is what we should be doing, which is why a balance must be struck between repression and rehabilitation. That is what the Bloc Québécois has always advocated in all areas.

The Bloc Québécois has been the toughest party in the fight against organized crime. It was the Bloc Québécois that introduced a bill to reverse the burden of proof in connection with the proceeds of crime. Now criminal groups have to prove where their money came from. Previously, the burden of proof was on the government, and it was much more difficult. This measure allowed Quebec to mount Opération printemps 2001, which targeted organized crime, starting with the Hells Angels.

That is one way of going about it. We need to be tough at the right time, and not simply for the sake of being tough or because we want to jump on any kind of media bandwagon. Indeed, we often realize a few weeks or months later that the situation was not as serious as we thought and that it was blown out of proportion.

Acting on impulse is always a bad idea, even in our lives. We must take a balanced approach, even in our own lives, and never go on instinct alone. Acting on instinct or impulse can be costly to consumers and that applies to everything. That is why it is important to always be wary of the Conservative philosophy. As we know, instead of having to take into account established factors, the minister will now be able to consider whatever factors he chooses.

We talked about health and how offenders are treated. That is one philosophy. Torture is not allowed in Canada. We cannot allow a government, even a Conservative government, and a minority one at that, to outsource torture.

Serious accusations are being made because the government refuses to give the House all of the documents related to the Afghan prisoners. There are suspicions that torture was outsourced to Afghan authorities. That is the worst of them. I have a hard time understanding why the Conservatives refuse to release these documents. We need to be able to tell the public that we defend our society's values throughout the world.

That is not what Bill C-5 does. The minister is being allowed to choose why he will or will not bring an offender back to Canada. If it is left up to the minister, he could decide to leave an offender or Canadian citizen for a longer period in a country where torture is used, in order to get something from him. That is not right.

We cannot play with human rights and with the values our society believes in. These values are there in good times and in bad, and that is always what we strive for.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is a bad bill. Giving a Conservative minister the powers and the discretion allowed for in this bill is a bad decision.

The Bloc Québécois will oppose this bill and will not send it to committee as the Liberals are doing. Obviously, if the Liberals vote with the Conservatives, this bill will go to committee, but we will do everything we can to ensure that it does not pass. The minister was not able to convince us of the merits of this bill, other than the fact that it gives him the discretionary power to choose why or why not to bring an offender back to Canada, and gives him more latitude and flexibility. He must have some cases in mind, but he does not want to share them. This kind of Conservative, right-wing, extremist behaviour is very disappointing.

I am very surprised to see that my colleague, the member for Pontiac, now espouses right-wing values. I knew him in his previous life in municipal politics. I always thought of him as a balanced and conciliatory person, but he seems to have taken on some bad habits since joining the Conservatives. He was a Liberal in Quebec, but now he is defending American-style right-wing conservative philosophy tooth and nail. President Obama had to let 20,000 people out of prison because there was not enough money to look after them, let alone rehabilitate them. The member for Pontiac and his government want to invest more money in prisons and put more people in jail. Those are not the values our ancestors passed on to us, nor are they the values I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren.

Once again, I chose the right party: the Bloc Québécois. Bloc members will always stand up for human rights and the values we cherish. Those values should protect our citizens no matter where they are in the world. We will certainly not give a Conservative minister the power to make decisions for purely political reasons. They seem to think it is a good idea right now. They are impulsive. They see what is going on in the media, so they introduce a bill to fix the problem. They hope to win a few more votes. But the Conservatives will not win more votes in Quebec, and they know it.

We will never support Bill C-5. If the Liberals support it and it goes to committee, Bloc members of the committee will do their utmost to make members of every political party understand that this is a bad bill. Giving a discretionary power to a right-wing Conservative minister is not a good idea. Sometimes they have good ideas that we can support, but this is a bad one.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the Bloc member a question. As someone who has done a lot of work in this area, I am impressed with what he said.

Did he know that no transfers were denied in 2005, but 28 were last year? Does he take it for granted that some people who are not guilty may not be able to return to this country because of the Conservative government's hardline ideology?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is quite right. Even worse, we get the feeling that the Conservatives are outsourcing their philosophy to countries that do not respect the human rights we enjoy in Canada. They are probably doing this to try to get something out of Quebec and Canadian nationals, when these people should be able to expect their rights to be respected just as they would be in Canada.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Northumberland—Quinte West.

I appreciate the opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-5 to speak about how this government is continuing to deliver on its commitments to Canadians.

As the minister has noted, one of the strongest commitments our government made when we were first elected was to make our streets, our playgrounds and our communities safer places for everyone. We promised to take action and we have delivered.

We have passed tough new laws to crack down on crime. We have taken action to ensure that offenders are held accountable and that they serve sentences which reflect the serious nature of their actions. We have given police and law enforcement agencies more of the tools they need to do their job.

The legislation before us today builds on this impressive track record while also helping to ensure that the appropriate factors are better taken into account when it comes to considering offender transfer requests.

Today, when a Canadian citizen serving a sentence abroad requests a transfer to Canada, the minister shall take several factors into consideration in assessing these requests. The minister shall, for example, consider whether an offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada. The minister shall also consider whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada and whether the foreign government or prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights. These are important factors.

Under the amendments, which our government is proposing, the minister would still be able to consider these factors. Bill C-5 would not change that. What it would do is clarify in the existing International Transfer of Offenders Act that the minister may also take other factors into account when considering requests for offender transfers. Among these additional factors is whether the offender's return to Canada will endanger public safety. Surely that makes sense. All of us want to ensure that our homes and our communities are safe, and that is what Bill C-5 would help to do.

In particular, Bill C-5 would help to ensure that in all transfer decisions due consideration is given to the safety of any member of the offender's family, the safety of children and the safety of victims.

The government has already done a lot to give victims a greater voice in the justice system. Indeed, helping victims of crime has always been at the heart of this government's public safety and justice agenda. Our government is committed to ensuring that their voices are heard and their concerns are taken seriously. That is one of our highest priorities and why we have taken action on a number of fronts.

We have committed $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy so the government could better meet the needs of victims. Among other things, we have also created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and given victims the resources to attend parole hearings or seek help if they experience crime while abroad.

Our government has also taken steps to keep our children safe, most recently introducing legislation in the other place to strengthen the Sex Offender Information Registration Act.

I am confident these measures have the support of all hon. members, as does our efforts to protect victims, family members and children under the provisions of Bill C-5.

Crime places a heavy toll on individual victims, their families, communities and society at large. That is why we need to take action to be sure that the scales of justice are balanced to include victims and some of the more vulnerable members of our society. That is why Bill C-5 is so important.

In addition to ensuring that public safety is a principal consideration of offender transfer requests, Bill C-5 would also provide for the consideration of other factors, many of which are in line with current reforms currently underway within the corrections system.

These include whether in the minister's opinion the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity after the transfer, the offender's health and whether the offender has refused to participate in a rehabilitation or reintegration program.

In addition, Bill C-5 notes that the minister may consider whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the events for which he or she has been convicted, including by acknowledging the harm done to victims and to the community, the manner in which the offender will be supervised after the transfer while he or she is serving his or her sentence, and whether the offender has co-operated or has undertaken to co-operate with a law enforcement agency.

As well, the legislation before us today notes that the minister may consider any other factor which he or she considers relevant.

All in all, the legislation before us today would help to ensure that Canadian offenders who request a transfer are treated fairly and equitably while not being allowed to escape accountability if an offence is committed abroad. It is fair, timely and what Canadians want.

I therefore look forward to working with all hon. members to ensure swift passage of this important legislation so that we can continue to ensure that our friends, our family members and our loved ones remain safe.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-5 and to outline yet another way our government is delivering on its commitment to keep our streets and communities safe.

As my hon. colleagues have mentioned, our government has already done a lot of things in that regard over the last four years. We have taken steps to ensure that violent criminals are dealt with appropriately. We have introduced legislation to ensure that serious crimes are met with serious jail time. We have given police and law enforcement officials the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. All of these initiatives are vital to our work of building safer communities for everyone, as is the legislation before us today.

Our government has made public safety the number one priority since we were first elected in 2006. That is what the legislation we have introduced today is all about.

Bill C-5 would help to ensure that Canadians continue to feel safe in their homes by strengthening the International Transfer of Offenders Act. Specifically, the legislation we have introduced recognizes that considerations of public safety are at the very centre of decisions about whether offenders serving sentences abroad are transferred to Canada.

Our government has also made sure that helping victims of crime remains at the heart of this government's public safety and justice agenda. We have committed to ensuring that their voices are heard and that their concerns are taken seriously. That is one of our highest priorities and why we have taken action on a number of fronts. The legislation our government is proposing would help further strengthen this track record by ensuring that the safety of victims can be taken into account when assessing requests for transfer.

As well, the changes that our government is proposing stipulate that the safety of family members and children can be taken into account. The minister would specifically be able to consider whether the transfer of an offender with assault convictions against family members would endanger their safety. The minister would also be able to specifically consider whether an offender incarcerated for a sexual offence against a child in a foreign state is likely to commit a sexual offence against a child if transferred to Canada. Surely, these changes make sense.

The way things stand today, the minister is required by law to take several factors into account when considering a request for transfer. These include: whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada; whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as his or her place of permanent residence; whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada; and, whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.

Those are important considerations to take into account but nowhere in the current law is there specific mention of protecting the safety and security of law-abiding Canadian citizens. Nowhere is there any specific mention of victims, family members or children. These are serious omissions that the bill before us today would correct.

As well, Bill C-5 would allow the minister to consider a number of other factors when considering an offender's request for transfer. For example, the minister would be able to consider whether an offender who requests a transfer to Canada has refused to participate in career, vocational or educational programs while incarcerated in another country.

The minister would be able to take into account the circumstances in which the offender, if transferred to Canada, will be monitored and supervised after release. This is especially important given that one of the purposes of the act under the amendments our government is proposing would continue to be contributing to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community.

Bill C-5 would also allow the minister to take into account several other very important considerations when assessing an offender's request for transfer. These are: whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she has been convicted, including acknowledging the harm done to victims and to the community; and, whether the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity after the transfer.

Again, those considerations should surely help to guide decisions about whether to grant a request for transfer from an offender serving a sentence overseas. At the moment there is no clear legislative authority for the minister to take them into account. Bill C-5 would change that while also providing the minister with more flexibility in decision-making itself.

The legislation that our government has introduced today is designed to keep Canadians safe. It is fair, timely and what Canadians want. I therefore urge all members to work with this government to ensure its speedy passage.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for his speech, and also my colleague before him who also made a speech. I never had the opportunity to stand and ask him a question but I will ask a question of my colleague from Ontario.

Bill C-5, from what I understand, is to enhance public safety, which is the major key plank of this legislation and which was never thought of before, as was pointed out by him.

One of the things he said concerned the ability to rehabilitate, as assessed by another country. For example, if someone were in the United States right now and programs were available for him or her to rehabilitate, such as vocational and certain other programs, if that individual were unable or unwilling to take steps or measures to rehabilitate, that would be used against that individual applying for the transfer into this country. Is that necessarily the case? What about in countries that do not necessarily have the programs for rehabilitation? Should that not too be considered?

Is that my understanding of it? Is that what he is pushing for? In other words, to rehabilitate someone or to gauge that person's ability to rehabilitate also depends upon the system in that country.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to a prisoner in the country concerned, yes, if that country does not have a prison system that affords the prisoner the ability for rehabilitation or to further his or her education and develop skills, this legislation permits the minister to take that into account.

The United States, Great Britain, Norway and other countries have similar correctional facilities to Canada. I would particularly refer to countries like Norway and Great Britain. When we visited the prisons in those countries we heard that 60% of their programs were adopted from Correctional Service Canada. It then would make it very easy for the minister to make that assessment.

The member rightly reflects upon and mentions the fact that we really do want to ensure that people are rehabilitated. Yes, in answer to that question, that is all taken into account under Bill C-5 and that would be one of the principal considerations that the minister would make.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise to speak to Bill C-5. I have to start my comments by saying that it is not the first time the House has seen this bill. The bill was introduced last fall with much fanfare and a sense of urgency before being killed by prorogation.

As with most measures introduced by the government, we are seeing them introduced two or three times with a sense of urgency. The Conservatives attack the opposition because the measures are not adopted right away, that we are standing in the Conservatives' way, only for them to kill their own bills, bring them back and feign that they have to be passed immediately. There is a renewed sense of urgency, even though they are the ones who killed the bills. It is no different with respect to Bill C-5.

I want to talk about the purpose of the international transfer program. If we are seeking to amend it, it would be wise to consider why it is there in the first place. I will read directly from Correctional Service Canada's annual report for 2006-07 as to why we have a transfer system in place in the first place. It states:

The purpose of this program is to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling them to serve their sentence in their country of citizenship.

It continues:

If offenders are not transferred, they may ultimately be deported to Canada at the end of their sentence, without correctional supervision/jurisdiction and without the benefit of programming.

It goes on to talk about the fact that we may not even have any idea they had any criminal record at all, because there would be no record of it in Canada. It continues:

At any given time, there are over 2,000 Canadian citizens incarcerated throughout the world. Canadians serving a sentence of imprisonment abroad are faced with serious problems such as isolation, culture shock, language barriers and have no means to address the root of their problems because of the lack of programs available to foreign nationals.

It continues:

Without the benefit of transfers, offenders are deported at the end of their sentence to their country of citizenship, often after having spent years in confinement and being totally unprepared for safe, secure and successful reintegration into society. Transfers provide offenders with the possibility of becoming productive members of the community, by contributing to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offender and their reintegration into society as law abiding citizens.

Given that the Conservatives were attacking voraciously the fact that individuals were being transferred from foreign prisons to Canadian prisons, it is passing strange that an annual report would come out while they are in power talking about the essential nature of this program, not out of some sense of feeling sorry for these individual inmates, but as a recognition that it provides a critical function to public safety. If somebody commits a crime abroad, is incarcerated and does not receive the rehabilitation and help he or she needs to get better, when the individual is released, and he or she will be released, and deported back to Canada, he or she will not be ready for reintegration.

When we consider individuals who might be facing mental illness, and we have to remember that one in ten of those who are incarcerated are suffering from a very serious mental illness, and in the female population it is one in five, these Canadian citizens who are jailed in foreign jails and faced with mental health illnesses will not only not be getting any help, but will get much, much worse. What will land back at our doorstep inevitably is a much bigger problem.

When we scrape away the veneer of rhetoric and cut to the government's own words in the annual report for Correctional Service Canada, we recognize this program has important value, and that playing politics with it is frankly wrong.

It might surprise individuals to know that over 79% of the individuals in question with respect to this transfer program are Canadians in the U.S. These are individuals who are incarcerated in the United States. It is ironic, because the policies the government is pursuing right now of dramatically increasing incarceration fall very much into the model that is in the United States. We hear what a disaster that system is for the Americans right now.

The U.S. system is so overwhelmed that the Americans have an inability to provide programs, services and rehabilitation, such that when experts are looking at Canadians coming back from U.S. prisons, they say they are at a much higher risk of reoffending. In fact, we know that in California, the rate of recidivism, the rate at which individuals repeat offend, is over 70%.

Imagine this. A Canadian citizen has perhaps committed a smaller crime. Most crimes are related to substance abuse. We know that more than 80% of inmates are facing substance abuse problems. We are going to take somebody who goes in for a non-violent drug-related offence and we are going to put that person into a crime factory in the United States. We are going to send people in as minor criminals and churn them out of a system that some, including the head of the John Howard Society here in Canada, have called “a gladiator school”.

Those people will return to Canada. What will they do then? I think it is a very dishonest portrayal when we try to scare people into thinking that these are criminals who have committed acts in other countries and they are going to come here and do bad things. Here is another way of thinking about that and a more honest way of putting it. These are individuals, Canadian citizens, who have committed crimes abroad and who will come home.

The question is, who do we want to come home? Who do we want to step off that plane? Would we prefer somebody who was transferred into a Canadian jail, received proper programming, was rehabilitated and would not reoffend, or would we prefer that people languish in a foreign jail, where they get no rehabilitation, where if they have a mental health issue, they are going to get no treatment and where if they have a drug issue they get no help? They return to Canadian soil ready to commit more serious, potentially violent crimes.

If we stopped and thought about it rationally for just a moment, we would realize that this program does have an important function in that regard. We also need to consider just how small a number we are talking about in terms of the number of people that were transferred in any given year. It ranges from a low, and we had it last year, of around 40 individuals who were transferred, to a high of about 90. The government makes this proclamation about how essential this bill is. Even if one forgets everything I just said, we are talking about 40 to 90 individuals.

The government goes on to say that under its administration, and it is very proud of this, it has stopped dramatically the number of transfers. Yet if we look at that same annual report and look at the number that was actually denied by Canada as opposed to by another jurisdiction, in the last year of a Liberal government, in 2004-05, there were four people denied. In the last year for which we have statistics, under the Conservative government in 2006-07, the number is seven.

Here is a matter in front of us of supposedly enormous urgency to change and a government touting how it has dramatically reduced the number of people it is allowing to come here. We have gone from four people denied to seven. That is in the annual report. That is some crisis.

It is under assault right now, but I think we have to recognize that Canada has one of the best prison systems in the world. Its mandate is rehabilitation. Our rates of recidivism are low. Despite the fact that the Conservatives refuse to acknowledge it, crime in this country has been consistently on the decline. I use Statistics Canada for my facts in this regard. I think Statistics Canada is an appropriate place to turn when we are trying to figure out what the crime statistics are in a country.

When the Minister of Public Safety was last before the public safety and national security committee, however, he said we cannot believe Statistics Canada; we cannot believe the facts, do not listen to them. He said instead that there were invisible crimes going on that were unreported and that those were skyrocketing. The types of crimes that we could not put our finger on or actually identify were going through the roof. I asked him where he was getting this information from, what was his source. His response was he got it from the Vancouver Board of Trade.

I submit that if I am going to use statistics on what is happening with crime in this country, I would be much more likely to use the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and Statistics Canada, all of whom tell us crime is in decline, particularly violent crime, as opposed to listening to the Vancouver Board of Trade on an issue that might be very local to whatever situation it is faced with.

The point is that the facts do not seem to matter, that what matters is the politics, that there is an attempt to use crime and issues surrounding crime as a wedge, as an opportunity to divide Canadians to try to extract political gain. I would submit that this is a relatively new phenomenon. In the House in the past, all parties have recognized that if there is one area in which we really should not be playing politics it is in crime, in keeping our communities safe, and that we should follow evidence-based systems that rely upon what actually works.

Let us take a look at what actually keeps our communities safe and reduces crime and focus on those things. Let us not play into false perceptions or sensational media reports with policies that do not work, cost billions of dollars, make our communities less safe but extract an inch or two of political gain at any given moment.

What we need to do in that regard beyond Bill C-5 is take a look at the trajectory of dealing with crime in this country. We need to look at the actual evidence of what has worked and not worked in other jurisdictions and at what we should be doing here in Canada. On that, I am going to come back to the American example of incarceration.

Many know that the American rate of incarceration is much higher than the Canadian rate. What people may not know is that was not necessarily always the case. If we go back to 1981, the Canadian and U.S. rates of incarceration were relatively similar, with the U.S. rate being about two times the Canadian rate per capita. However, Republican policies came forward that were aimed at “tough on crime” measures to drive up prison populations and that difference went from some 200% higher to nearly 700% higher, an increase of 500% in a very short period of time.

If there was a dramatic impact in terms of making the United States safer during that period of time, perhaps there could be an argument that literally tens of billions of dollars were spent for that additional incarceration. The fact is that in that period of time the United States witnessed the same decline in rates of recidivism and crime as did Canada. Violent crime rates and property crime rates right across the board are all down by about the exact same measure. The only difference is that the U.S. had to pay tens of billions of dollars more.

The evidence is that it has a far more sinister impact. If we consider the case of California, there is now a taxpayer cost of $8 billion a year with a prison system that is overflowing with more than 150,000 inmates. I mentioned before that over 70% of inmates reoffend upon release, are recycled back into a prison system that offers no programming or treatment to treat the underlying causes of their criminal activities.

Because the U.S. system is so overwhelmed, the same people are not being treated and are being pulled back into the system in a never-ending loop of crime, victimization and cost. This is the model the government wants to follow. This is the direction the government is headed.

In addition, the Federal Court ordered the state government to release 55,000 inmates before they finished serving their sentences because the conditions of the prisons were unconstitutional. Canada signed a UN convention against double bunking and ever since then, we have been bringing that rate steadily down.

The minister now says that to deal with the soaring prison population, we are going to return to that policy, the same kind of policy that is leading to higher rates of recidivism, which means less safe communities. Not only are we talking about billions in more costs, but ultimately we are going to be talking about higher crime rates with these policies. The question may be asked: Just how far have the Conservatives gone when it comes to spending on correctional services?

In two years' time, the budget of Correctional Service Canada will have increased by some 96%. The capital budget for Correctional Service Canada, in two years' time, will have been increased by 238%. Make no mistake, as staggering as those increases are, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

At the end of this month, Mr. Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, will submit for Parliament's consideration the total cost of the government's measures. Get ready for sticker shock. The cost will be astronomical.

When we consider how poorly this system has worked before, let us consider what our alternatives are. Instead of spending billions of dollars on prisons, what are some of the things the government should be spending on?

Let us start with crime prevention.

In 2005, the last full year of a Liberal government, the National Crime Prevention Centre supported some 509 projects, in 261 communities, for a total of $56.9 million. Today, the Conservative government has slashed funding and programming by more than half, cutting every year. Now less than 285 projects are funded and actual spending on crime prevention has been slashed to just $19.27 million. That is a cut of more than half on crime prevention.

This is deeply disturbing. We know from people like Dr. Irvin Waller, who has done extensive studies in this area, that for every dollar we spend on crime prevention, we save $7.00 on incarceration and $4.00 in eradicating costs dealing with both probation and re-entering. We are talking about saving $11.00 for every $1.00 we spend in prevention, yet the current government has decided to slash funding on crime prevention.

When I have gone across the country, I have had an opportunity to speak with boys' and girls' clubs, organizations that are right at the front line of helping youth at risk, of turning them away from a dark path toward a life of prosperity, paying taxes and happiness. I have talk to the Salvation Army and the YMCA. These groups are critical in providing that community support and resource to help young people. When I hear that their funding has been slashed, that they are in a position where they get less and less cash, even as they watch billions get dumped into prisons, it is tragic. It is tragic because It means there will be more victimization.

Perhaps this is one of the greatest flaws of the approach of the Conservatives to crime. They wait for victims. They let the crimes happen. Then they say that they will get the guys and really punish them. They say that they will throw them into really terrible, dark places, where they will learn their lesson.

However, because the Conservatives are cutting from the things that stop crime from happening in the first place, we have more victimization. Then because they are cutting from the ability of the prison system to deal with a manageable population, they are destroying their capacity, their ability to make those people better, ensuring that when they walk out the door, they are better and they do not commit more crimes.

We know that more than 90% of inmates will walk out the door of those jails. No matter how long we make those sentences, they will come back out. Again, we have to ask ourselves who we want walking out those doors.

The government often touts its position on victims of crime. The reality is it has been cutting there too. The Prime Minister has cut grants for the victims of crime initiative by 43% and contributions to the victims of crime initiative by 43%. Even on the front line of helping victims, the government is cutting, as it dumps billions into prisons. It is cutting from the prison farm system. It refused to act on the Correctional Investigator's report on Ashley Smith and the terrible problems in our prison system, with mental health and addictions issues. It is undermining police by refusing to even support its promise to put 2,400 more officers on the streets. something the Canadian Police Association called a betrayal. Despite engaging Mr. Iacobucci on Afghan detainees, the government ignores his recommendations when it comes to reforming the RCMP.

Enough is enough. It is time for the government to actually listen to evidence and take real action.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague knows very well that Bill C-5 will give more discretionary power to the minister to repatriate Canadians who are serving sentences abroad.

The Bloc Québécois is very worried about this. We saw the Conservatives fight tooth and nail in the House to defend their former candidate and MP Rahim Jaffer, in response to the allegations of impaired driving and cocaine possession. We have to wonder whether the purpose of this bill is simply to enable Conservative MPs or anyone who has their membership card to be repatriated.

It worries me that this would give so much power to a Conservative minister. Does the member agree with me?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the extension of these powers to the minister, when the system seems to have been working so effectively, will have to be very carefully examined at committee. If improperly used, this would create a situation that is much more dangerous.

I also agree that there seems to be a double standard. When it comes to Conservatives, if one does the crime one pays the fine, as opposed to their normal rhetoric.

Specifically on the issue of Bill C-5 and its application, the government will have to provide us with some very good reasons why these additional powers are necessary and assure us that they will not be abused in a way which is inconsistent with even its own annual report, which talks about how important these provisions currently are.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, could the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering tell me what he thinks about criminals who serve their time in foreign jails, are released and eventually come back to Canada with no monitoring, or prisoners who are transferred to Canada, serve their time in jail, and then paroled and followed by a parole officer with limitations of what they can do and where they can go? Would that not be better for public safety than having criminals coming from foreign countries with no rules?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member makes an important point. We have to consider that most of the crimes committed are property crimes or crimes that are usually related to things like drug addiction. If we do not deal with the base cause of why that crime was committed, as an example I mentioned earlier in my speech that more than 80% of inmates suffer a serious substance abuse problem, if we do not break that cycle of addiction, then we will have a continuous loop of addiction, victimization, incarceration and back and forth. It is almost a guaranteed cycle.

In foreign jurisdictions, in most cases, there is no opportunity to break that cycle. Therefore, we have Canadian citizens serving their sentence in a foreign jurisdiction where they will get no treatment for their substance abuse problem, no treatment for their mental health problem, should they have one, and then they will be dropped back on Canadian soil and we will be left to pick up the pieces.

Let us be clear about what those pieces will be. That individual's life will be in tatters, but there will be further victimization in all likelihood. Therefore, we create a situation that makes our communities less safe, it creates a higher likelihood of victimization and, at the end of the day, we will have to pay the price. Therefore, the cost is infinitely higher to not having that person transferred and rehabilitated.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, there have been 1,314 applications for transfer received by international transfers unit of Correctional Service Canada from 2002 to 2007. Of those, 519 were denied by the minister, who has the right under the existing legislation to do that, on the basis of threats to public security or not a significant link to the country.

Is that not working? Why do we need then Bill C-5, which purports to be for enhancing public safety, if the minister already has that discretion and has used it? I do not know the math of 519 out of 1,314, but it is almost in half the cases.

What is wrong? “If it ain't broke”, why fix it?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an excellent point, which all members of the House need to consider.

What concerns me about many of the speeches and comments I have heard by Conservative members is their touting of the virtues of rolling back these transfers as if the objective should be to get to zero, as if we should try as hard as we possibly can to transfer nobody. Hopefully I have made the case that the cost of this, in terms of increased victimization, increased costs and more destruction of lives, makes absolutely no sense.

The only motive I can think of to change something that clearly is already working, where half of individuals are already rejected, where the minister already has adequate powers, is the ideological vent is to roll the number right down to zero and stop transferring anybody.

We will have to be very cautious with this and examine it very carefully at committee. We need to look at what the implications of these additional powers will be. If this is allowed to happen, the impact of it will be nothing but cost and pain for Canada.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the government tends to give the impression that somehow the offenders who are transferred back to Canada will be out on the street, that they will be a danger to somebody. The fact is members know they will be transferred directly to jail. They will not be a danger to the public at that point.

In the last 29 years, almost 30 years now, only 1,351 offenders have been transferred to Canada, so we are not talking about a huge number. The member indicated that we were talking about small numbers.

This is all a public relations exercise. The—

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member makes an important point. Under the veneer of rhetoric, under the talking points and the slick spinning in commercials, there is a complete lack of substance.

I suggest that when we deal with matters as important as public safety, as important as the rehabilitation of people who have committed crimes, our first question should be this. What works and what does the evidence tell us? Then we should follow what works and what the evidence tells us instead of playing games with crime.